The buzz continues for the documentary Keep On Keepin' On, even this early in awards season: this documentary may follow 20 Feet from Stardom to Oscars. The documentary's catchy title, Keep On Keepin' On, comes from the legendary trumpeter Clark Terry, now 94, a line he uses to inspire young musicians such as Justin Kauflin, a blind pianist composer he's nurtured. Both star in the movie, along with Quincy Jones, who has taken Kauflin on tour and recorded an album with him this summer. What do they have in common? All can call the legendary Clark Terry their teacher. Add to the list, Alan Hicks, the Australian drummer and surfer who made this debut documentary, along with his "mate," -that is, friend--Adam Hart. The film won the Hamptons International Film Festival's Summerdocs audience award, and will be featured during the festival this October.
Quincy Jones could not have been more proud, seated in the Tribeca Grand's screening room at the premiere last week. "You should hear the young musicians we are promoting," he said, pleased at the caliber of talent including Justin Kauflin. Barry Levinson, Barbara Kopple, Alex Gibney, Bob Balaban chatted with him as Bob Gruen photographed Justin Kauflin and the filmmakers. I asked Alan Hicks how an Australian came to this landmark American music, and how he made his first film on a jazz legend.
"I came to New York from Wollongong, Australia when I was 18 to study jazz and drums and I ran out of money. I needed to go back. One of my teachers said you should come to the Blue Note tonight to hear the Oscar Peterson trio. He sat me down between Clark Terry and his wife Gwen Terry. Clark said he thought returning to Australia was a bad idea. I should stay in NY and continue my studies. He invited me over to dinner and I had a great meal with jazz greats, and then he invited me again and again, and eventually told me to bring my sticks so I could study with him. He asked me to join his band.
After that I did go back to Australia and a local channel wanted to make a documentary about my friendship with Clark. We could talk about Quincy Jones (Terry was his first teacher) and Miles Davis, but the money fell through. I was talking to a buddy of mine, Adam Hart, a cinematographer, and he said, "Mate, we can just do it ourselves. It'll be easy." If I'd only known! We saved up money for a year and went to just film Clark's life story. Justin Kauflin, the blind piano player was always there. So we changed our focus and as soon as we did that, the work took on a life of its own. He was such an interesting character to have around. I'm still a player but I haven't been practicing enough, as I should be. Clark is on my case about that."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.