Terry, Clark (Mumbles)

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Terry, Clark (Mumbles)

Terry, Clark (Mumbles), influential jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist, singer; b. St. Louis, Dec. 14, 1920. His oldest sister Ada was married to the tuba player Cy McField, who played with Dewey Jackson’s Musical Ambassadors. On occcasion, Terry would hear them rehearsing at his sister’s home and, after befriending one of the trumpeters, he was drawn to the instrument. In high school, he played a few gigs at a bar and began singing there as well. He credits his style to the soft “felt-muted” sound prevalent in the area. While in the Navy (1942-45), he was sent to one of the training camps for black seamen near Waukegan, 111., just north of Chicago. From these camps, bands were sent out to bases around the country. At the camp near Waukegan, Terry met and worked with Willie Smith. Terry spent a brief period with Lionel Hampton; in 1946 he joined Charlie Barnet’s band. In 1947, he played a Town Hall concert with Doc Severinsen as a bandmate, then was back in St. Louis with George Hudson’s band and in and out of N.Y. There, in 1948, Teagarden was hired by Count Basie, who was rehearsing at Nola’s Studios on Broadway. After Basie’s Big Band broke up, Terry toured and appeared on film with Basie’s small group. In 1951, Ellington made him an offer, and he joined the group that November. Terry says he contributed to the ending of Ellington’s “Newport Suite” (1957). While with Ellington he began doubling on the flugelhorn for the softer “St. Louis” type of sound. Later, he worked with Keith Eckert, technical advisor for Selmer Brass, to develop the first fluegelhorn that Selmer issued in America.

Terry left Ellington’s band in Paris in 1959 to join Quincy Jones’s band, which was signed to play in the Harold Arlen musical Free and Easy. When the show unexpectedly closed in early February 1960, Terry accepted an offer to join the NBC Tonight Show Orch. in N.Y. During the day the band members worked playing music for commercials; the Tonight Show was taped early in the evening, ending at 8 pm, after which Terry would play gigs. In 1961, he worked with Gerry Mulli gan’s band, and in 1964-67 he co-led a celebrated quintet with Bob Brookmeyer at the Half Note. In 1964, he had a solo hit with the song “Mumbles,” accompanied by the Oscar Peterson trio. This scat-singing mas-terwork gained him his nickname. The trumpeters for the Tonight Show, Severinsen, Jimmy Maxwell, Bernie Glow, and Terry, would occasionally be asked by local schools to talk to students; this started his work as a teacher. He started the Harlem Youth Band, bought instruments for some of the students and taught them how to read music. Gene Ghee, head of the jazz program at Boys High in Brooklyn, was one of the students. Terry chose to remain in N.Y. when The Tonight Show moved to Burbank, Calif, in 1972, though he did appear as a guest on occasion when in the area. Since then, he has continued to lead small groups, such as his Big B-A-D Band, which plays occasionally, and numerous clinics. Wynton and Branford Marsalis and Danny House played in Europe with his youth band in 1980. The Clark Terry International Inst. of Jazz Studies in Le Mars, Iowa, founded in 1995, coordinates his educational work. He received an honorary doctorate from Manhattan School and from NEC (T. Monk Ins.), both in May 1997.

Known for his smooth, sweet tone and great facility, Terry was also capable in his early years of creating hair-raising brassy excitement (e.g., on “Move” and “Scrapple from the Apple,” 1950). He was a pioneering jazz flugelhornist and a major influence on the young Miles Davis. Through his generosity as a teacher he has inspired many musicians. He is a witty singer whose “mumbles” blues are both hilarious and musical.


Wardell Grey: “Move” and “Scrapple from the Apple” (1950); Introducing Clark Terry (1955); Duke with a Difference (1957); Serenade to a Bus Seat (1957); In Orbit (1958; w. Monk); Color Changes (1960); Eddie Costa Memorial (1962); Clark Terry Tonight (1964); Oscar Peterson Trio with C.T (1964); Power of Positive Swinging (1964); Tonight (1964); Gingerbread Men (1966); Mumbles (1966); Clark Terry’s Big B-A-D-Band Live (1974); Live at the Wichita Jazz Festival (1974); Mother...! Mother...! (1979); Clark Terry Spacemen (1989); Live from the Village Gate (1990); Second Set (1990); Shades of Blues (1994).

—Lewis Porter

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