Last night, my husband and I saw a documentary about jazz great, Clark Terry. The fim is called Keep on Keepin’ On and I would urge you to see it if you can. Terry, a trumpeter from Arkansas, played with jazz legends including Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie and influenced other jazz greats such as Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. He has been a prominent educator and a presence in the jazz scene since the 1930s. Just this week, Wynton Marsalis paid tribute to Terry in this beautiful post on his Facebook page.
I knew very little about Terry before going in to see the movie, but I was briefed on a few key highlights of his career and some detailed anecdotes as well. (This is what happens when married to a musician with an encyclopaedic memory.)
What I didn’t know going into the movie that Clark Terry has diabetes. I am not sure what type – no specific mention was made in the movie – however his wife Gwen said that he had lived with diabetes for over 60 years. I wanted to stand and applaud at that point, but figured the Cinema Nova movie-going crowd would not appreciate, nor understand, the ovation.
The documentary was gorgeous and showed Terry’s talent and generous spirit. A significant part of the film followed one of Terry’ students, a young pianist, Justin Kauflin. Kauflin obviously has a great deal of admiration and respect for Terry, but that was returned in spades by Terry himself. And one of the things that connected the two – apart from the music – was they are both vision impaired – Kauflin is blind due to a rare eye disease and Terry has significant vision loss due to his diabetes.
The film was mostly focused on the last four years, although there were lots of incredibly flashbacks of Terry’s impressive career (including this – you have to watch this!). In recent years, Terry’s health has declined and recently, he had both legs amputated below the knee due to wounds in his feet that would not heal – of course, this is a complication of diabetes.
I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, but there were times I was in tears and found it really difficult to watch. I love the way that diabetes was portrayed in the film – it was not sensationalised at all. But it was still tough to watch.
Seeing diabetes complications playing out in someone’s life is a difficult thing. I cried when he was given the news that the treatment he had been undergoing to treat the wound in his foot had not worked and the only option remaining was amputation. The same thing happened with his other foot. I cried harder when he was telling his wife just how much pain he was in. But mostly, I cried when he said he wanted the surgery to work. His determination was startling to me – he just refused to give up because he feels he still has so much to give – so much to offer young musicians.
When we left the movie, I said to my husband that there were parts that were really tough for me. But he reminded me that Terry has lived with diabetes for 60 years. That’s a long time. A long, long time.
Clark Terry turns 94 on Sunday. His contribution to jazz music is clearly significant. He is recognised as a pioneer and has appeared on over 900 recordings. He did this all with diabetes. And although he no longer performs, clearly he is continuing to make a difference in his chosen field. Diabetes hasn’t stopped him.
Pretty much anytime I see a movie at Nova, I head across the road to Readings – often to buy the movie’s soundtrack! But last night I was looking at their Christmas music CDs. I really wanted the Neil Diamond album (most obviously called ‘A Cherry Cherry Christmas’) but was outvoted by those with taste. Vince Guaraldi’s ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ won out. My favourite tune on the album is not a Christmas song at all, but it is fun and joyful and I love it! Here’s Linus and Lucy.