Clark TerryClark Terry, (December 14, 1920–February 21, 2015), jazz trumpet player, scat singer, composer, educator

Clark Terry was one of the major swing soloists on the trumpet and a godfather of jazz to thousands. He was born in St. Louis and took up trumpet and valve trombone. He started out playing in local jazz clubs before moving to New York.

Terry is one of a handful of musicians that played in the bands of both Count Basie and Duke Ellington. He was known for a smooth, warm sound and imaginative solo work, complemented by a joyous, outgoing personality and keen sense of humor. He pioneered the use of the flügelhorn in jazz and developed a legato approach to swing with the use of his “doodle” tonguing. He later became the first African-American staff musician at NBC when he joined the Tonight Show Band. During Johnny Carson’s tenure, the popular “Stump the Band” segment would often feature Terry’s conversational scat singing in a routine that later turned into his best-known song, Mumbles, which he first recorded with Oscar Peterson.

Besides recording with various groups with such as Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Bob Brookmeyer, Red Holloway, and Louie Bellson, he also fronted an orchestra known as the Big B-A-D Band, which featured performers such as Phil Woods, Jimmy Heath, and Duke Jordan, as well as the arrangements of Ernie Wilkins. He continued to perform in his later years and appears on almost 1,000 recordings as a leader or sideman. He also served as a jazz ambassador for the United Nations

In addition to his work as a performing artist, Terry was deeply interested in jazz education and helping out young musicians. This began early in life when he mentored fellow St. Louis trumpet player Miles Davis, as well as musician and producer Quincy Jones. Terry played an important role with Dr. Billy Taylor in the development of jazz education and later taught at William Paterson University. He later helped discover and promote a new generation of leading jazz stars, such as Dianne Reeves and Wynton Marsalis. This side of his professional life is featured in the critically acclaimed 2014 documentary Keep On Keepin’ On,” which showcases Terry helping and encouraging the young blind jazz pianist, Justin Kauflin. Diabetes may have slowed him down in his 90’s , but he continued to teach and inspire visiting musicians from around the world at his home in Arkansas. He also published his autobiography in 2011.

His numerous honors include a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an NEA Jazz Master, and over a dozen honorary doctorates. He also had the distinction of performing for eight U.S. Presidents. Clark Terry died from diabetes at the age of 94.

Visit the official Clark Terry website here.

On a personal note, one of the biggest highlights of my professional career was sharing the stage with CT during my college years at the University of Montana. Not only was he one of the most gifted musicians I’ve ever known, but he remains in my memory as one of the kindest and encouraging, as well. An amateur photographer friend took a couple of pictures of the two of us on stage. I had one blown up into a poster and years later, when our paths crossed again here in Wichita, I had him autograph it for me. It is one of my most prized possessions.

Playing "Take The 'A' Train"

Playing “Take The ‘A’ Train”

CT& Me (Feb. 2, 1985)

CT & Me (Feb. 2, 1985)

My sincere condolences to his dear wife, Gwen. I am looking forward to a great jam session with him again in the presence of God, who Clark affectionately referred to as “Big Prez.” His humility, graciousness, and generosity of spirit remain as an example of a life well lived. As CT himself said in a recent blog post:

“To all of you who are still on this side of the grass with me, I want you to know that I appreciate everything that you have done and are doing for me. I thank Big Prez for all of your kindness and encouragement every single day. I love you with all of my heart. Let’s keep praying for each other, and keep on keepin’ on!”

 

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