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Thunder Soul - A Movie Review

Thunder Soul is the movie/documentary, executive produced by Jamie Foxx, about the award winning Kashmere High School Stage Band, out of Houston, Texas.  The band was led by a visionary music teacher, Conrad "Prof" Johnson Sr., who, like Miles Davis, recognized music and life was changing dramatically for African-Americans in the early 1970s and moved his traditionally oriented jazz stage band into the realm of jazz funk.  Documentaries, if they are successful, find ways to not just make the true life experiences focused on in the movie personal for the audience, but also complete the picture with a full round look at ancillary ideas and vector relationships germane to the topic.  Director Mark Landsman does this in aces.

While the movie is ostensibly built around a reunion of the 1970s band and their now 92 year-old music director and teacher, what the movie really covers are issues personal to not just the human heart but the human experience.  It's not just about how the band's greatest success was from winning jazz festival competitions in Mobile, Alabama and other places in the 1970s, but Landsman's astute eye for narrative and conceptual concept also captures what it was to like to live in the post-Civil Rights era for blacks – including the Black Power movement, Vietnam, the changing of clothes and dress styles, and Governor George Wallace and his political thoughts.  Not lost in all of this is how any advances were built on the struggles of their parents. 

Into this melieu a background of band members' stories are presented.  Through them the transformative message of life and the proper way to live it, as taught by Johnson and his wife of 52 years, is showcased.  That Johnson was a father figure to so many of the students who were raised without men in their lives, and that Landsman tells this side of the story in such a real yet non-emotional manner, is a testament to Landsman's skill handling interviews along with cuts from archival footage from the time period.

What the movie does, however, more than anything else, is sneak up on you.  It tells the story of how administrators, nationwide though focused through the lens of Kashmere High School, started cutting music program budgets thus reducing the opportunities for high school students to experience the full range of life's availabilities and how a valuable source for self-discovery for non-traditional troubled youth began to be chipped away.

Ultimately what we have in the end is a wonderful double CD set of music, Texas Thunder Soul: 1968-1974, created by these amazing musicians and available through Now-Again Records and online retailers; even the story of how this music came to be captured is covered in the film.  That Johnson's spirit continues on in the many ways all good teacher's encouragement carries on is beyond doubt; that this story is available for future generations in this film is a blessing.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Thunder Soul
  • CD Title: A Movie Review
  • Genre: Soul / Funk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2012
  • Record Label: Lionsgate Movies
  • Rating: Five Stars
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