This week I'm visiting Chicago, where I first lived as a student while attending DePaul University's music school. After my brief time at DePaul's music school, I changed majors and enrolled in DePaul's business school, where I eventually dropped out to begin my career as a software engineer and entrepreneur. In total, I lived in Chicago for nine years and I still regard those years as being some of the most exciting years of my life.
Each time I return to Chicago, I enjoy revisiting some of the places that shaped who I am today. One of those places is the Music Box Theatre. It was there that I first saw art-house films like "2001 a Space Odyssey", "8 1/2", "Wings of Desire", and "Laurence of Arabia." It's also the theater where I first saw a double feature of "This Wonderful Life" and "White Christmas" with the woman who would eventually become my wife.
Like most of our trips to Chicago, my wife and I had a few things planned, including a visit to the David Bowie exhibit at MCA, a Keith Jarrett trio concert, and catching up with some old friends. Aside from that, however, our schedule was fairly open. I hadn't yet told my wife this, but it was my intention all along to see if we could squeeze in a showing of the movie "Keep on Keepin' On."
"Keep on Keepin' On" depicts the bond between legendary jazz trumpeter, Clark Terry, and a 23-year old blind piano player named Justin Kauflin. At the beginning of filming, Clark Terry is 89 and suffering the debilitating effects of diabetes, including the loss of his own eyesight. Clark Terry becomes a mentor to the young piano player, teaching him tunes, and coaching him through stage fright during the Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition. In return, Justin Kaufman and his seeing-eye dog become part of Clark Terry's support system, bringing joy to Clark Terry and his wife while his health deteriorates.
"Keep on Keepin' On" is currently in a limited distribution run, with just a few days of screenings in a handful of cities. Right now, it's playing for a few days in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, and Asbury Park, New Jersey. After that it moves on to other cities and beyond that, who knows where or when I'd be able to see it.
Being a fan of Clark Terry's music and a jazz trumpet player myself, it's no surprise that I'd want to see this movie. I'll admit, though, that I expected it to be a tough sell to my wife. I imagined the conversation going something like, "Hey, I know we're only in Chicago for a week, and we both know you don't like going to the movies, but there's this movie about an aging jazz trumpeter player and a young blind piano player. The trumpet player has diabetes, loses his eyesight, and . . . um, are you still listening to me?" At least, that's how the conversation might have gone were it not for the Music Box Theatre.
When I told my wife that the movie was playing at the Music Box Theatre, she instantly became nostalgic for those earlier years when she and I went to the Music Box Theatre for the holiday double features. Without a second's hesitation, she agreed and we were off to the 3pm showing on a Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
I'm pleased to say that my wife and I both loved the film. And to our absolute delight, after the screening we were treated to a live performance by the film's young piano player, Justin Kaufman, and a Q&A session with the film's director, Al Hicks.
Clark Terry is one of the most recorded jazz musicians of all time, with over 900 recording sessions. During his long career, Clark Terry also mentored hundreds, if not thousands, of jazz musicians, including Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. Despite these and many other accomplishments, Clark Terry is barely known beyond jazz circles. As a trumpet player and fan of jazz music, I'd love to introduce more people to the life and music of Clark Terry, and this movie is the perfect vehicle to make that happen.
"Keep on Keepin' On" isn't just for trumpet players, nor is it just for jazz fans. Rather, it's a heart-warming story of friendship, inspiration, and the power of music to bring people together and instill hope in our lives. Amidst a movie landscape of vapid CGI blockbusters, "Keep on Keepin' On" is a breath of fresh air and I wholeheartedly recommend it. As the film's director mentioned after the screening, the only way the movie will succeed is by word of mouth. So this is my mouth, making words. Go see this movie!