A tender, affectionate tone permeates Keep On Keeping On, a travelogue told through the lives of two jazz musicians separated by seven decades in age, yet bound by their physical hardships.
Director Alan Hicks set out to document the life of legendary 93-year-old trumpeter Clark Terry, and while he succeeds in exposing Terry’s talents, he finds a jolt of light in blind pianist Justin Kauflin. Kauflin, mentored by Terry, is at first just another student finding his voice, his life a stream of struggles (blindness is a deal-ender for touring bands). But he remains a presence in Terry’s life as the trumpeter faces down deadly health issues. Hicks smartly balances the informative and emotional, using historical clips that capture Terry as a giant of his instrument.
And Kauflin, now under the tutelage of Quincy Jones (one of the film’s producers), has his own transformation as a musician and student. Watching his life unfold alongside Terry’s in intimate moments gives the film the weight it needs to transcend the genre of a jazz documentary.