Tuesday, April 29, 2014


By D.E.Levine

A Tribeca Film Festival 2014 Selection

Clark Terry is a jazz great, a trumpeter extraordinaire.  There is no doubt about it and he's been around for a long time.

Along the way he's known fame, fortune and adversity.  In this heartwarming and affectionate look
at Terry's relationship with Justin Kauflin, a talented jazz pianist, we learn a great deal about the man which might otherwise not be known to the public.

During the making of the film, Clark Terry celebrated his 91st and 92nd birthdays, a somewhat amazing occurrence since he has been plagued by severe illness and had numerous hospitalizations, operations and other treatments.

Terry was born in St. Louis in  1920 and started playing with Count Basie's band.  He considered that his "prep school" and became a mainstay with the Duke Ellington orchestra during the 1950s.  He became the first African-American musician hired to play full time on NBC when he was hired for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Although Dizzy Gillespie considered him the best trumpeter around, Terry is shown as more than just a brilliant musician.  His generosity in sharing his knowledge and skills, started when he was a young man, extends to current day.  His very first student was a 12-year old horn player named Quincy Jones (yes the renowned musician, composer and producer) who is one of the producers of the film. Jones is one of the mainstays of Terry's career.

Another mainstay is Kauflin, a vision impaired jazz pianist (who became totally blind at 11), who becomes his student and despite his deteriorating health condition and the necessary amputation of both legs, continues to maintain a friendship with Terry and receive instruction from him even when the older man is too weak to rise from his bed.

The revelation, and that's exactly what watching the interaction of the older man with the young musician is, cannot be completely expressed in words.  It is a rare privilege that showcases both the talent of both and the exceptional optimism of spirit and generosity that is an innate part of Clark Terry.

Filled with wonderful archival film clips of Terry performing as well as scenes of his teaching Kauflin and the struggle the young musician goes through to achieve his desired status in the musical jazz world, this is a film of joy.  It certainly should not be missed.