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KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON (review)

keep_on_keepin_on_ver2KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON
Directed by Alan Hicks

Starring Clark Terry, Justin Kauflin, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and Bill Cosby.

Currently in theatres, the film WHIPLASH details the destructive relationship between a music teacher and his student. Whereas the teacher/student relationship in WHIPLASH was volatile and dangerous, Alan Hicks’ debut documentary, KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON looks at a much more touching and quiet collaboration.

Born in 1920, Clark Terry soon rose to the forefront of the jazz movement. He played with Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, and was said to be a huge influence on Miles Davis. Yet, while all those names are familiar, most are unaware of Terry’s efforts. That said, in the jazz community, Terry is regarded as one of the greatest trumpet players of all time. Now, at the age of ninety-three, he is losing his sight and is bedridden due to complications from diabetes. One of the few things still able to bring Terry joy are his regular music lessons with his student, Justin Kauflin. Justin is twenty-three and lost his sight at a very young age. The film chronicles the beautiful friendship between the two over five years, as Justin prepares to compete in an international piano competition.

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While the film is about two jazz musicians, one doesn’t have to be interested in music to become engrossed in this wonderful little film. The bond between Terry and Justin is extremely powerful and strong. The film succeeds because it makes you care passionately for the two individuals in under ninety-minutes. This is the kind of film that even the most hardened of viewers will find themselves tearing up throughout. That is not to say that KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON is a depressing film. While there are desolate moments in the films second half, the film is always moving and inspiring, and can often be upbeat. Terry is extremely likeable, and even as he faces an inevitable death, he always carries a positive attitude, which he spreads to those around him.

Though the film deals with life and death situations, it never becomes too serious. This may be disappointing for some audience members looking to hear Terry discuss his struggles with racism as an up-and-coming figure in the jazz scene. Also, the film doesn’t delve into the mechanics behind the music as much as it could have. Ultimately, KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON is a film about a friendship, before it is a film about jazz. That said, it is easy to see why the film won the audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival and was the runner up for the same award at this year’s HotDocs Film Festival. Simply put, KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON is a heartfelt and intimate look at an age-defying relationship between two kind souls and easily one of the strongest documentaries of the year.

4.5 sheep

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