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Carter, John (Wallace)

Carter, John (Wallace)

jazz clarinetist, alto saxophonist, composer; b. Fort Worth, Tex., Sept. 24, 1929; d. Los Angeles, Calif., March 31, 1991. He grew up in Fort Worth with Omette Coleman, Charles Moffett, and Dewey Redman; he started playing clarinet as a child, gigging from the age of 14 around Fort Worth and Dallas. He was a prodigy, graduating from high school at 15 and college at 19; B.A. in Music at Lincoln Univ. After college Carter took a teaching job in the Fort Worth school systems, which he kept through the 1950s while earning his M.A. at Univ. of Colo. (1956); during that time, he also played in jazz and blues groups throughout the Southwest. In 1961 he moved to Los Angeles and again took a job as a public school teacher. He started working with Bobby Bradford; they founded an avant-garde jazz group in 1965, which they co-led, called the New Arts Jazz Ensemble (1965–73). Carter and Bradford also worked and recorded with Horace Tapscott in the early 1970s. Carter led his own groups from 1973 until he joined James Newton’s woodwind quintet (1980) and recorded with British drummer John Stevens. In 1974 he dropped playing saxophone to focus on the clarinet. He gave many educational lectures and performed in concerts. Although he and Bradford recorded albums and toured Europe in the early 1970s, Carter continued to teach most of the time in Los Angeles. In the early 1980s, with his four children grown, he finally quit teaching to devote all his energies to being a full-time musician. He formed his own record label and recorded with James Newton, Bradford, and a group he founded called Clarinet Summit (1984–87), for which he recruited Alvin Batiste, Jimmy Hamilton, and David Murray. He was also commissioned by N.Y/s Public Theater to compose a five-part suite, Roots and Folklore: Episodes in the Development of American Folk Music, which he began in 1982 and completed in 1989. Tracing the history of slavery from Africa to the migrations of the African-American populations from the rural South to urban centers after World War II, this monumental work combined traditional themes with brilliant orchestration for a bebop-flavored octet.


Flight for Four (1969); Seeking (1969); Self-Determination Music (1969); West Coast Hot (1969); Secrets (1972); Suite of Early American Folk Pieces for Solo Clarinet (1979); Dauwhe (1982); Clarinet Summit (1984); Castles of Ghana (1985); Dance of the Love Ghosts (1985); Fields (1988); Shadows on a Wall (1989).

—Lewis Porter/Matthew Snyder

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