Sometimes you really are spoilt for choice living in New York City. A Saturday can hold so many possibilities for filling the day. This Saturday I didn’t have to do a long run as part of my marathon training, because I ran on Friday night with a bunch of friends. I’ve become used to running more than 10 miles on a Saturday morning, then eating, and then lying on my couch watching old movies for the rest of the day (it’s called recovery!). Being able to spend the afternoon walking, I took a stroll to one of my favourite movie theatres in the city – the Landmark Sunshine, to catch a screening of Keep On Keepin’ On.
The music documentary, made by an Australian director, Alan Hicks (who is also a jazz drummer) over a period of 5 years, is a heart-warming tribute to one of jazz music’s most endearing characters, if not as well-known as many others, Clark Terry. A trumpet player with the best of them, Terry has been teaching many other lovers of the genre how to imbibe their instruments with soul and discover their own personalities through the music. He mentored Miles Davis and his first student was none other than Quincy Jones – who became so good, Terry actually left the Duke Ellington Orchestra to play for Jones’.
These stories and more come out during the doc, as it follows a young musician, Justin Kauflin, a pianist who is blind, who takes lessons from Terry. Their friendship develops as Terry teaches Kauflin all about the douba-douba-doubleee doooo and helps him along his way. It’s not an easy friendship – or should I say it isn’t one filled without hardships. Kauflin’s nerves bother him more so than his physical restrictions, and Terry becomes bed-ridden due to a diabetes. But the moments they share, captured so delicately for us by filmmakers who obviously have earned the trust and commitment from those they are following, are moving and tender.
A man like Terry deserves to be recognized and remembered, while still alive, and this film gives him that deserving tribute. As with any good student/teacher relationship on screen, it’s about more than just learning the specificities of music and the techniques required to stand out; it’s about how to handle that which life throws at us.
After the screening, Kauflin came out, led by his gorgeous seeing-eye dog, and played a composition he wrote for Terry, called For Clark, and answered a few questions. I hadn’t expected this, so it was great to see him in person, and hear about the progress he has made since filming the doc. Walking out of Keep On Keepin’ On, I found myself with a new catch-phrase for life – and I know I’m not the only one who’ll benefit from seeing this doc.
The film, which won TriBeCa Film Festival’s Audience Prize, is on limited release in the US, but keep an eye out for it elsewhere. For more details, go here.