Keep On Keepin’ On

Keep On Keepin’ On ★★★½

It is a crying shame that it has taken this long for a cinematic look at the life of jazz legend Clark Terry. Despite never achieving the commercial solo acclaim that fellow players like Gillespie and Miles reached, he was one of the greatest trumpet players to ever pick up the horn and influenced countless others who mastered the instrument.

Alan Hicks film shows us Terry as a frail old man, suffering with health issues but even at the grand old age of 94, his passion and spirit refuses to be cowed by the passages of time. His mentoring of young blind pianist student Justin Kauflin is the focus of the film, rather than taking us stage by stage through the various parts of Terry's illustrious career. This is a man who has played on over 900 recordings so Kauflin has one of jazz's most respected and premier teachers on hand to guide him.

You can see that Terry is eager to pass the torch onto a fresh faced newcomer, spending hours together helping the young man with his dexterity on the ivory keys. The trumpet players welcoming warmth helps the film overcome its rather standard visual approach and the bond between the two men feels genuinely touching. Hicks clearly has huge respect for his subject and provides a particularly poignant moment midway as Kauflin visits Terry recovering in hospital. As his mind drifts away and reminisces on an old song, he begins to sing aloud as a gentle piano begins to play just underneath his vocals, crystallising the memory of a man who can never be separated from music, no matter what his state.

What we are really seeing here is how the communication of music exists fluently though age and time, across cultural boundaries and physical limitations. Teacher and pupil are like two peas in a pod once the notes start to stray into the air and their desperation to play and evoke their artistic range is wonderful to watch. Whiplash may have given us two jazz egomaniacs hell bent on destroying each other but here we have a duo who understand the power of collaboration and a teacher eager to pass on every single trick in the book.

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