Terry’s distinctive personal sound has been justly hailed as the “happiest” in
all jazzdom. Nobody could lift your spirits in live performance like he could,
so it will be especially difficult for his fans to see Terry’s suffering the
ravages of age and ill health. Yet, he doggedly continues to mentor his latest
student, forging an unusually close relationship with blind Justin Kauflin. Alan
Hicks follows four eventful years of their jazz lives in Keep On Keepin’ On, which screens during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
is the only musician to play in the Ellington, Basie, and Tonight Show bands. Thelonius Monk’s last real studio sideman gig
was for Terry, one of the trumpeter and flugelhornist’s 905 documented
recording sessions. If you didn’t know already, he is the real deal, but he has
always been willing to take young musicians under his wing. However, Kauflin is
more than just his latest pupil.
with degenerative vision that failed completely during his grade school years, Kauflin
replaced his enthusiasm for sports with music. Despite his obvious talent, he
suffers from confidence issues. Frustratingly, he just cannot seem to find
sideman gigs, for conspicuously obvious reasons. Surely, Terry must know
someone who can help, right? As a matter of fact, he once gave lessons to a
young cat named Quincy Jones, who happens to be one of the producers of Keep On.
times, Hicks’ intimate access to the two musicians feels like more of a curse
than a blessing. He captures moments of pain and indignity that are uncomfortable
to watch, but they accurately present the messiness of reality. For jazz fans,
it is also bittersweet to see the late great Mulgrew Miller briefly appearing in
an interview segment. On the flip side, it should be noted Quincy Jones looks
it is important to accentuate the positive in Keep On. Perhaps providentially, one of Terry’s greatest hits was “Mumbles,”
featuring his sly nonsensical blues vocalizing, considering his lessons now largely
depend on his scatting chops. As bad as things get, Terry keeps plugging away
with and on behalf of Kauflin, because you cannot keep a great man down.
great is the right term. Jazz fans respect Bird and Dizzy, revere Duke and
Armstrong, but its Clark Terry that we love. For years he would regularly headline
one of the major New York clubs every other month or so, giving us a chance to
recharge our spiritual batteries. It is hard to accept we probably will not be
see lead that familiar quintet again (featuring David Glasser on alto, Don
Friedman on piano, Marcus McLaurine on bass, and Sylvia Cuenca on drums), but
that appears to be the case. If you missed them, you missed out.
Clearly, Hicks understands Terry’s musical significance
and appreciates the dedication of his wife Gwen. Keep On is definitely a happy-sad kind of film, instilling optimism
in the next generation, while paying tribute to those who came before them. You
will probably need to listen to a good dose of Terry after viewing Keep On Keepin’ On to cheer yourself up,
but it is still highly recommended for jazz fans when it screens again this
Friday (4/25) during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Clark Terry, Documentary, Quincy Jones, Tribeca '14