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Keep On Keepin' On (2015)
If you enjoy Jazz music but don't know who Clark Terry was, you probably know who Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and music industry mogul Quincy Jones is. Jones was just a boy when he became Terry's first student, learning style and technical prowess during stolen early morning moments after his Jazz idol's late night sets on stage. Jones freely attributes his own success to that cherished early relationship in this film - as well as his astonished gratitude for Terry joining his own fledgling orchestra years later - as one of many periodic testimonies that also include profound admiration for Clark Terry from Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and the sorely missed Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
Over-all, I thoroughly appreciated having the chance to screen this easily overlooked documentary. Virtually anything worthwhile in American music either is or stems from Jazz, but that's a tempest for a different review. Keep On Keepin' On beautifully encapsulates Clark Terry's illustrious place in Jazz history, from his notable beginnings in the 1940s and '50s with the great Count Basie and Duke Ellington bands, followed by a decade of national TV exposure as the first black musician on staff with a major US network, as well as Terry producing hundreds of albums recorded solo and with the likes of Jones and Canada's Oscar Peterson. Terry received the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010.
Justin Kauflin is the other side of the same coin here. Stricken with a rare condition that slowly stole his vision in childhood, Kauflin soon turned his hand to the piano and his passions to Jazz. As Terry's wife Gwen explains in the film, while mentoring Kauflin musically at William Paterson University, Terry could somewhat relate to his latest protégés blindness thanks to his own dwindling sight due to diabetes. You see that bond. Kauflin is a regular visitor at Terry's home, talking about and playing Jazz 'til after midnight. Hicks patiently captures a kind of passing of the torch from Terry to Kauflin, with this promising young musician given the blessing and provenance of his acclaimed, progressively ailing teacher.
However, Keep On Keepin' On isn't a perfect film.
While the first half of this effort is sheer heaven, the last half is pure hell. Halfway on, portions of it feel awkwardly concocted for the sake of creating a dramatic storyline beyond a mutual appreciation for this music. You're suddenly presented with turning points surrounding Kauflin's budding career that seem tastelessly self-promotional in nature. Sure, as a documentary it can't help but be tainted by unbalanced bias. But, the message here ends up hijacked and distorted into a jarring, musical world version of The Karate Kid (1984) minus Elisabeth Shue. One where Kauflin vying against-all-odds to win a big competition comes with over-dubbed Mr. Miyagi-like words of wisdom from an absent Terry. And, lucky socks. Uh, okay.
Even a later visit by Quincy Jones to Clark Terry's pre-operative bedside barely revives this film's initial vibe of sincerity. Kauflin's seemingly tactless opportunism just makes it worse.
Keep On Keepin' On is definitely a treat for Jazz fans wanting to see the legacy of Clark Terry celebrated and preserved on film, but director Hicks' whiplash-inducing midway switch of then turning this picture into little more than a marketing video for Justin Kauflin hits a sour note that hardly fades until the closing credits. It's a misstep that costs this feature its worthiness as a big screen treasure, but check it out for the music and a thoroughly enjoyable first half as a better than average rental. Reviewed 03/15, © Stephen Bourne, moviequips.ca.
Keep On Keepin' On is rated PG
by the Ontario Film Review Board, citing use of expletives, and
limited use of slurs, and is rated NR by la Régie du Cinéma
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