DVD: Keep on Keepin’ On (2014)

February 2, 2015 | By


KeepOnKeepinOn_sFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  January 13, 2015

Genre:  Documentary / Jazz

Synopsis: Moving portrait of legendary jazz trumpet player Clark Terry as he mentors gifted, blind piano player Justin Kauflin.

Special Features:  Q&A with Director Alex Hicks and HIFF co-moderator Alec Baldwin (33:55) / 4 Deleted and Extended Scenes (11:35) / Jazz Archive (5:38) / Additional Interviews (6:26) / Clark Terry on Performing (1:08) / Clark Terry on Teaching (1:59).




After travelling to the U.S. to be mentored by renowned jazz trumpet player Clark Terry, Australian drummer Alan Hicks was soon offered a prime spot in the jazz icon’s band, touring across Europe for four years before Terry’s next student, pianist Justin Kauflin, caught the drummer’s attention, largely because Terry and Kauflin were slowly losing their precious sight in tandem. Terry was still able to see murky images in one eye, but Kauflin was virtually blind, yet he demonstrated a passion and deep commitment to be the best in his field.

When a proposed Australian TV featurette on Terry’s amazing, decades-long mentoring program fell through, Hicks and cinematographer Adam Hart decided to go for broke and make a documentary on Terry and Kauflin themselves, balancing short spurts of filming in New York City and Terry’s home in Arkansas with quick jobs to keep their documentary project going. Quincy Jones eventually joined the production and helped clear complex music rights, allowing the filmmakers to fully present Terry’s talent with vivid audio and rare archival film & video clips.

Filmed roughly when Terry was 90-92 years old, no matter how  fragile or ailing the jazz great may appear, he’s fully devoted to his students, which in the early years included Jones and Miles Davis. Choosing to pass on knowledge to newcomers rather than taking his exceptional experience to the grave, Terry challenges, listens, suggests, and helps refine an artist’s sound so it’s both professional, and reveals the artist’s inner voice rather than parrot someone else’s style.

He’s the complete humanitarian – he’s never charged a fee – and although it’s disheartening to see Terry in increasingly fragile states – his frequent hospital visits reveal deeper health issues, of which one is horribly cruel – he keeps singing, remains in regular contact with his students, and never denies them his time, ensuring they’re armed with the right tools and inspiration to fight for a chance at a career in the arts.

Kauflin’s own progress is shown through extracts of private rehearsals, public performances, and tender moments with his mother, but perhaps the sweetest comes on the night Jones visits Terry in Arkansas, and sees what’s perhaps an echo from his own past in Kauflin and Terry’s gentle relationship. Jones says to Kauflin “He’s a great man,” but alongside respect and deep concern for Terry, there’s also a few bouts of deliciously profane candor between the two longtime friends. (Says Jones to Terry: “You always were a late night motherfucker.”)

Keep on tells Terry’s story in straight terms without any manipulative editorial maneuvers or contrived scenes – much of it feels like fly-on-the-wall drama – and there’s a clever device Hicks uses to repeatedly anchor Terry’s life force to music: Hicks had Kauflin perform piano accompaniment as underscore, which often fades up on the soundtrack whenever Terry sings, functioning as a poignant comment on Terry’s total immersion in melody, rhythm, and harmony.

It’s a beautifully crafted film  – Hicks admits to being a fan of D.A. Pennebaker, but prior to Keep on, he’d never made a movie – and it’s a rich, emotionally tough film to watch, in part because Terry also represents the quality of talent, integrity, and knowledge that vanishes each time a great musician passes away. (At the time of writing, Terry is very much alive at the wild age of 94.)

Anchor Bay’s DVD features a crisp transfer of the film, a lengthy Q&A with director Hicks at the Hamptons International Film Festival co-moderated by Alec Baldwin, and a gallery of extended scenes, rare performance footage from The Tonight Show (where Terry performed in 1992), and additional interviews with Bill Cosby, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Dianne Reeves, and Arturo Sandoval.

Hicks’ filming also occurred while Terry was completing his autobiography, which was published in 2011.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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