Two jazz musicians, one Hall of Fame legend Terry Clark, the other his struggling protege, are handed all kinds of physical obstacles, but both live life with great joy and "Keep On Keepin' On."
Cowriter (with Davis Coombe)/director Alan Hicks, an Australian student at William Paterson University in New Jersey for Music/Jazz Studies, met Terry Clark when he was so broke he was going to fly home. He ended up becoming one of the man's many proteges, eventually touring with him. When an Australian TV station's proposed short piece on his relationship with a jazz legend fell through, Hicks decided to use what he'd learned playing jazz to create his own feature film. "Keep On Keepin' On" wraps the viewer up in the love Hicks obviously has for his subject.
Clark's story alone is an amazing one, a poor kid who built his own horn and made so much noise his neighbors pooled together $12.50 to buy a real one from a pawn shop. He went on to play with both Duke Ellington and Count Basie and was the first black staff musician at NBC as part of 'The Tonight Show's' band. Johnny Carson announced his induction into the Jazz Hall of Fame on the show. Two young, skinny kids - Quincy Jones and Miles Davis - each approached Clark to be their teacher and Clark embraced them both. Jones was astonished when eleven years later, his idol was performing in his own band. By the time he was 75, Clark decided that, having achieved one dream, he'd realize another by devoting himself to mentoring young students. When, at 85, the diabetic Clark began to lose his eyesight, he was introduced (by Hicks) to Justin Kauflin, a 23 year-old blind jass pianist who helped him adjust to the new disability. Kauflin became like a son to Clark and his wife Gwen.
Hicks has created an intimate portrait of a man who is the polar opposite of the fictional character portrayed by J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash." Justin's parallel story may have worked its way into the film organically, but Hicks was smart to recognize it. Here's a young man who astonished his mother by telling her he wished something awful had happened to him so he could relate better to the Blues which he loved. She laughs as she recounts the anecdote as it happened right after her son had lost his own sight. These two individuals who inspire with their outlooks on life are examples of how generosity of spirit becomes its own reward.
Hicks uses archival footage, photographs and drawings to fill in historical backgrounds along with interviews with Jones, Davis and others, including Bill Cosby who notes Clark's additional talent as a Blues singer with his hit 'Mumbles.' Clark knew everyone and the anecdotes are many, but the real heart of the documentary comes from the intimate moments shared by the old man, who celebrates three birthdays beginning with his 90th, and Justin. Justin practices as the bedridden Clark supports and advises him, both taking time to play with Kauflin's seeing eye dog Candy. When Clark asks the time, it's always well past midnight.
Justin's advised he's a semi-finalist in the Monk competition and is gripped by nerves. Terry sends him his good luck socks, then tells the disappointed contestant 'If you first you don't succeed, keep on suckin' 'til you do suck-a-seed.' When Clark's health takes a a downward turn and he faces amputation, the 79 year-old Jones stops by for a visit and Terry insists Justin play for him. The young man will go on to play his own composition, 'For Clark,' at the Montreaux Jazz Festival with Quincy (Kauflin's music comprises the film's original score).
Terry's wife and Justin's parents are both shown to provide loving, supportive homes buoyed by the gift of laughter. "Keep On Keepin' On" is one big love fest.
Robin also gives "Keep On Keepin' On" a B+.
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