The long-awaited film about legendary jazz trumpeter Clark Terry “Keep On Keepin’ On” won an audience choice award at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, and will be shown next week in the Seattle International Film Festival. The documentary follows the relationship of Terry with one of his many students, pianist Justin Kauflin.
In his book Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry, he tells of his time on the road and in the studio with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and the Tonight Show band. He also wrote extensively about discovering his calling to teach and mentor young musicians, which he says is the joy of his life. Thousands of students and others he has encouraged adore Clark (known as Cee Tee to his loving fans), and they love to talk about him.
I’m no exception. Here’s my Cee Tee story:
In March of 1980, I was a fledgling jazz host and producer at a little gem of a public radio station, WFBE-FM in Flint, MI. When I heard that Clark Terry was coming to town to do clinics, workshops and concerts with high school and college bands, I begged the Mott Community College band director to bring Clark to the station to tape an interview. This was my first radio interview with a major jazz artist.
Cee Tee is what I refer to as the radio host’s ideal guest: the self-winding interviewee.
You ask a basic question, you get a well-thought out answer, a couple of interesting stories to go along with it, and if you’re lucky, a good joke, too. Clark had it all!
I will never forget his brilliant smile, his twinkling eyes and his laugh as we chatted across the table.
It was over all too soon. On our way out of the studio, he mentioned that his wife, Pauline, had died just four months previously.
He was still in mourning, but he’d made a commitment to work with these students in Flint, and he was not about to let them down.
My copy of the taped interview was lost years ago in a flooded basement.
I have one Polaroid snapshot of me and Cee Tee backstage on concert night. I treasure that picture, and I keep it handy for those times when I need to be reminded to “keep on keepin’ on!”
Keep On Keepin’ On shows at SIFF Uptown on June 4, as part of An Evening With Quincy Jones, and on June 6.
Justin Kauflin’s trio performs at the Triple Door on June 5.