ENTERTAINMENT

Clark Terry Continues To Inspire Students With New Documentary 'Keep On Keepin' On'

04/25/2014 02:21 pm ET | Updated Apr 25, 2014
Dave Kotinsky via Getty Images

Before they became recognized worldwide for their musicianship, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones and Dianne Reeves were among the countless artists to receive inspiration and support from the pioneering jazz flugelhornist and trumpeter Clark "CT" Terry.

Terry's remarkable life story is the subject of the new documentary "Keep On Keepin' On," which chronicles the relationship between Terry and his young piano protege, Justin Kauflin, who is blind and suffers from stage fright. During the course of filming, Terry's diabetes began to affect his sight, which deepened the pair's bond with one another.

Last week the 80-minute documentary, produced by Jones and directed by Alan Hicks, premiered exclusively at the Tribeca Film Festival, followed by a post-screening performance from Hancock, Reeves, Kauflin, Jon Baptiste and Roy Hargrove, which was presented for American Express card members.

Hicks, a former student of Terry's who spent more than four and a half years making the film, told The Huffington Post that he has noticed a significant improvement in Terry's "strength" since the film's completion.

"I talk to Clark almost every day, and he is so happy. And it means a lot to him to have people call him and let him know what the film was like," Hicks told HuffPost. "He's seen it a bunch of times. I've shown him almost every cut of the film. But it's when people come back to him and say they really enjoyed it, and they feel a connection with him, that now it's actually giving him a lot of strength, and he's sounding better and better every time I speak to him."

Terry, 93, has broken a number of barriers throughout his career, including becoming NBC's first African-American staff musician during his 12-year stint with the "Tonight Show" band. But his greatest source of pride might be his work with students like Kauflin, now 27, who is in the process of recording an album with Jones.

"I think it means more than anything in the world to Clark, as you can easily see on that film," Terry's wife Gwen said during the post-screening session. "He achieved great heights in his career. He was able to make a lot of money doing those things."

"And he found the greatest pleasure from starting with a bunch of little tough guys in Harlem to keep them off the street and out of trouble," Gwen went on. "Brought them some instruments, got them some music and taught them how to play jazz. And now he has 15 honorary doctorates."

For Kauflin, Terry's undying friendship, guidance and wisdom has left the young pianist forever grateful.

"I can't thank them enough, first of all, for having the vision and the passion to create this film in tribute to Clark," Kauflin said prior to his performance last week. "And also for inviting me to be an example of so many students that Clark has taught, and continues to teach. Every time I call, he's got a student at the house."

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