KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON
Director: Alan Hicks
Screenwriters: Alan Hicks and Davis Coombe
Runtime: 86 mins.
Australian release date: 8 January 2015
Keep On Keepin’ On is Alan Hicks’s very fine debut documentary about the jazz legend, Clark Terry. It was filmed over a four-year period and documents the mentorship between trumpeter Terry and a 23-year-old blind piano prodigy, Justin Kauflin, as the pianist prepares for one of the most prestigious jazz events in the USA, the Thelonious Monk competition. Hicks is an Australian drummer who performed and studied with Terry between 1989 and 1992, so he had first-hand knowledge of this great man - a man who decided early on in his illustrious career that he would always help up-and-coming musicians. This was as a direct consequence of his own early experience starting out in the music biz when help was never as forthcoming, for it turns out that the old boys who were his predecessors kept their musical cards pretty close to their chests. The twist here is that Terry is well into his nineties and in poor health, but is determined to keep on keepin’ on…
Terry played with all the greats and was in both the Count Basie and Duke Ellington bands before joining up with Quincy Jones’s, who was a former pupil. There are interviews with some of the great jazz legends, including Jones and Herbie Hancock, who both hold Terry in great esteem and are also impressed by his piano playing student. Kauflin, who became blind at the age of 11, has been compensated by a musical vision which is simply 20/20. The cat can play! When you see him accompanying Diana Reeves you will see this for yourself. The doco also covers the decline in Terry’s health as he too starts to lose his sight and has to have both feet amputated due to diabetes. Kauflin visits him regularly and the relationship between the two men, who have such a wonderful gift in common, is very touching, as are the heart-warming scenes between Terry and his doting wife.
You don’t have to be a jazz aficionado or even be interested in this style of music to appreciate the film’s content, although there are enough musical performances to take your breath away as you hear both Terry’s and Kauflin’s exceptional talents. This human story transcends its musical genre; Keep On Keepin’ On is fundamentally a story about two men who both face enormous challenges in life and establish a friendship that is bound in a common dictum revealed by Terry when he says, “your mind is a positive asset, use it for positive thoughts.” What could be more life affirming than that? Highly recommended.