September 11, 2014 – Los Angeles, CA
The International Documentary Association, (IDA), kicked-off their 2014 Documentary Screening Series at the Landmark Theater with Clark Terry’s inspirational story of passion and mentorship in the film Keep On Keepin’ On, which was directed by first time film maker Alan Hicks. The story focuses on the life and soul of 2010 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winning jazz trumpeter Clark Terry whose career of acclaimed musical genius is overshadowed by his love and passion for mentoring and developing his thousands of students over a span of more than six decades. The first time director brilliantly chose to follow and chronicle the life of one of Clark’s most current students, Justin Kauflin – a blind piano playing prodigy. It is through the onscreen depiction of this mentoring relationship that the deep abiding love Terry has for both jazz and the students that he teaches is revealed.
As the film opens Clark is 89 years old and teaching the 23 year old Justin, a blind piano student, who turns out to have serious stage fright issues. It is about this time that Clark begins to loose his own sight and instantaneously a new bond is formed between the two men. The beauty housed in both men’s souls is revealed as a riveting list of jazz music’s greatest legends including the likes of Count Baise, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Quincy Jones are shown working with, acknowledging and paying homage to Clark’s life long commitment to mastering and teaching others how to express their musical gifts. His legacy as one of the most recorded and accomplished jazz musicians is undisputed among jazz connoisseurs and yet Clark’s greatest gifts have not been his albums or worldwide performances. His greatest legacy is the courage, confidence and love that he continues at 93 years of age to pour tirelessly into teaching others. Clark says, “Teaching jazz allows me to play a part in making dreams come true for aspiring musicians.”
A very young Quincy Jones became Clark’s first student over 60 years ago and they remain extremely close to this day. The two are caught exchanging a unique term of endearment always stated with explicit love in the undertones, “Are your lips greasy?” Jones walks into the film after a divine set of circumstances altered his schedule and opened up his availability. Captured on film is an organic first encounter between the talented Justin and his soon to be newest fan – Quincy Jones. Quincy calls Clark in a subsequent scene and says, “That Justin, I just can’t get his sound out of my mind.” Quincy and Justin become collaborators and went on to have Justin perform around the world.
Several times as the film progressed I was moved to tears by the deep bonds and kinship that grows as Clark helps Justin develop as a musician and as a man. The thoughtful energy that Clark expends to help Justin believe in himself and the music that resides within him leaps off the screen and takes on a tangible form right in the theater. Having no knowledge or exposure to Clark or his astounding work prior to this film I was not only educated about a musical genius and legend, but inspired to be better and mentor more frequently simply by being exposed to his story and energy.
Q&A session following the screening [Pictured from L to R: unkown, Moderator; Alan Hicks, Director; Quincy Jones, Producer; Justin Kauflin, Star/Piano Prodigy; and Paula Dupre’ Pesmen, Producer.] (Photo credit: Kay Nikookary)
At 93 years old Clark still has music deep in his bones and he is not slowing down or resting; he is teaching. If you crave a well-crafting and truly inspiring story, then you have to check out this documentary. You will walk away in love with Clark Terry and Justin Kauflin for sure. What is your passion in life? How are you sharing that passion to help others? What is your legacy?