This documentary about the esteemed jazz trumpeter Clark Terry is the
perfect antidote to the poisonous feature WHIPLASH, which posited the
thesis that only a cruel, ruthless taskmaster can teach youngsters how
to become professional jazz musicians. The only love that works is tough
love, brutal love.
KEEP ON KEEPIN ON puts the lie to that fascistic notion by showing
how Clark Terry operated as a teacher and mentor over his long career
as a jazzman. Terry, who died earlier this year at 95, came out of poverty
and hardship in St Louis (his mom died when he was seven) to play with
the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones, winning plaudits
for his warm, expressive, deeply felt horn work. Terry also led his own
band for many years and was a featured player on countless albums, television
shows and jazz concerts. All along the way he gave of himself as a teacher,
selflessly and whole-heartedly.
His desire to help others took root in him when he was a youngster, a
wanna-be trumpet player (hearing the Ellington band at ten is what turned
him on to jazz). None of the oldtimers he went to for lessons would help
him, so he had to somehow teach himself to play, first on a home-made
instrument, then on a hock-shop horn (purchased by his neighbors). Because
he had innate gifts, Terry was able to turn pro at seventeen, but that
happened only after ten years of struggle and failure.
spare others from that kind of anguish, Terry began a teaching career
that has touched tens of thousands of young students over the years. Thats
right-thousands. Thats because he has not only taught privately
(Miles Davis, Diana Reeves and Quincy Jones, to name just a few) but on
the university and music-school levels. Many of his students went on to
become teachers themselves; those teachers have bred other teachers, exponentially
One of Terrys prize students was the pianist Justin Kauflin, who
is given almost as much screen time as Terry in KEEP ON KEEPIN ON.
Kauflin, who is blind and depends on a seeing-eye dog to get around, was
a teenager when he came to Terry for help. Terry himself was beginning
to go blind as a result of diabetes, which also affected his blood circulation
and led to the amputation of both of his legs. But even when he was bedridden
and suffering grievously, Terry still found time to coach Kauflin, encourage
and inspire him.
He did this
not in a sappy, sentimental way; he was always honest with the kid, quick
to point out his weaknesses, pinpoint his problems. But this was always
done with love, the love of a father for a son, a guru for his disciple.
Kauflin responded to this kind of teaching in a miraculous way, growing
in every way as a musician. Its not that things came easy to him;
on the contrary, he had a bitter failure (coming out a loser in the Thelonius
Monk International Jazz Competition). But with Terrys counsel and
encouragement (You cant do it the easy way, you gotta work
hard at it, you gotta keep on keepin on), Kauflin hung in and ultimately
was rewarded for his courage and perseverance. Just recently the young
pianist released an album, DEDICATION, produced by Quincy Jones. (See
Blues & Jazz, below, for review).
Jones is another important figure in KEEP ON KEEPIN ON; his love
and respect for Clark Terry (and the latters wife, Gwen) fill the
screen and help make the documentary the moving, inspiring film that it