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Interview: 93-Year-Old Jazz Legend Clark Terry Shares Lessons From Count Basie and Duke Ellington With ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’

Interview: 93-Year-Old Jazz Legend Clark Terry Shares Lessons From Count Basie and Duke Ellington With 'Keep On Keepin' On'

In
theaters now, “Keep On Keepin’ On” explores the moving relationship
between jazz icon Clark Terry and his 23-year-old protégé, piano prodigy Justin
Kauflin. As Terry begins to lose his sight due to complications from advanced
diabetes, he forms a special bond with Justin who is already blind, and the two
support each other in ways that no one else can.

Mr. Terry
recently spoke with Shadow And Act about his experiences making the movie and
some of the wisdom gleaned from his lengthy and prolific career of performing
and teaching jazz.

What made him decide to
teach other musicians throughout his career:

My older sister Ada Mae’s husband Sy helped
me so much that I really realized the importance of that, and so I wanted to do
it. 

Also, an older musician gave me stupid
answers that were lies and when I found out he had lied to me, I was determined
to teach people the right thing.

About his protégé and producer of the documentary, Quincy Jones:

When Quincy Jones walked in while they were
filming and I found out that it was a dream of his do to a movie about me, and
then when he saw the quality of what they were doing, he joined the
filmmakers.  I was absolutely and completely thrilled.  

Look at how Quincy Jones has grown in his
career and how well he has done. I’m so so very proud of Quincy, I dig him
the most.

On Justin Kauflin:

I saw in Justin the same thing I saw in
Quincy Jones, which was that he was very serious about his music and that he
had a lot of natural talent. I will never forget that moment when Justin played
for Quincy the first time. 

Justin helped me to accept losing my sight
and has been very compassionate about my health challenges. I have helped
him to get over his stage fright and to develop his talent because he is a
beautiful young man.

Some of the most valuable lessons picked up from his mentors that
he passes on to his own students:

I learned from Count Basie the importance of
the utilization of space and time while playing your solos.  Which means
to not try to play too many notes, but make sure you’re swinging. 

And from Duke Ellington I learned two rules
of life:  Number one, never quit.  And number two, don’t forget rule
number one.  From Duke I also learned the importance of being musically
creative, to keep things interesting.

Where
he feels that jazz is headed:

I think that jazz is more appreciated than when I was growing up
because there were not any jazz classes in elementary, junior high, high
schools or colleges.  Today you can actually major in jazz and jazz is
taught in many schools.  And there are jazz festivals. I believe that
jazz is growing. Jazz allows a high level of creativity and venting of feeling.

What he hopes that people
will learn from his life story:
 

More than anything, I would hope people
realize the urgency of helping young musicians make their dreams come
true. And musicians should realize the necessity of practice. I have
always believed in practice, practice, practice.

“Keep On Keepin’ On” is in theaters
now. Find screening details on the film’s website HERE.



Thanks
to Mr. Clark Terry for the conversation. 

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