One of my favorite documentaries of 2014 didn’t make it to
the Oscars, but that doesn’t dim its luster in my eyes: Keep On Keepin’ On is a beautiful film and its soundtrack is being
released today by Varèse Sarabande. That happy occasion is made bittersweet by the
news that the movie’s subject, jazz trumpet great Clark Terry, passed away on
Saturday at the age of 94. The documentary candidly chronicles his declining
health over the past few years, but Terry never lost his zest for life or his
drive to encourage young musicians.
The movie focuses on the extraordinary friendship between
Terry and a brilliant young pianist named Justin Kauflin, who is blind. They
met when Justin was a teenager attending William Paterson University in New
Jersey, where Terry (then in his late 80s) was holding master classes. The
veteran and the novice formed an unshakable bond, and that’s what makes the
film so moving.
When she joined the project, producer Paula DuPré Pesmen encouraged first-time filmmaker Alan
Hicks not to make this a “jazz documentary” but to focus on the relationship
between these two gifted people, and how they fueled each other’s spirits
through good times and bad. As a result, while there are many great film and video
clips of Terry and Kauflin in performance, they are tantalizingly brief. That’s
why I’m so glad there is now a soundtrack, where we can hear the entirety of
Clark’s breathtaking rendition of “Stardust,” his participation in Duke
Ellington’s “Harlem Air Shaft,” and three unforgettable tracks with the Oscar
Peterson Trio, including my all-time favorite, “Brotherhood of Man,” along with
Clark’s signature “Mumbles” routine.
The album includes some poignant pieces of dialogue with the
trumpeter and his protégé and several examples of the fine young pianist at
work. Pianist-composer-arranger Dave Grusin appears on several cuts. He was
brought on by the film’s executive producer, Clark Terry’s onetime student and
lifelong friend Quincy Jones.
Producer Pesmen’s advice to her tyro director was sound.
Even people who don’t especially care for jazz—including my wife and my
students at USC—have responded strongly to the film. Several of my students
told me they were going to seek out Clark Terry’s music after being exposed to
it in this context. Now they can easily do just that…and so can you.
Incidentally, you can now rent or purchase the film online
HERE, as well as the soundtrack.