For more than six decades Clark Terry was a musician admired by his peers and honored by his public. Terry was known for several impressive gimmicks: playing his trumpet upside down; playing jazz phrases on just his mouthpiece; playing the flugelhorn and trumpet at the same time. But it was not these entertaining tricks that distinguished Terry. Though humor was never far away when Terry played, he brought to his craft a package of skills and a maturity that allowed him to share his wonderful gifts with colleagues, listeners, and aspiring musicians.
Born into poor circumstances in St. Louis, Missouri, December 14, 1920, Terry constructed his first trumpet out of a piece of garden hose, a funnel, and a cut-off piece of pipe for the mouthpiece. As Terry told Down Beats Mitchell Seidel, “the neighbors got sick of me blowing that horrendous noise on that gadget, so they chipped in and collected the $12.50 and bought me a trumpet from a pawn shop.” While attending Vachon High School, he would rehearse with Ernie Wilkins, later to become one of Count Basie’s principal arrangers and
Born December 14, 1920 in St. Louis, MO, one of 10 children; first wife, Pauline, date of marriage and divorce unknown; married Gwendolyn Paris, 1992; stepson Gary Paris.
Made first “trumpet” out of crude materials; played with “Dollar Bill and Small Change,” Rueben & Cherry Carnival, blues singer Ida Cox’s “Darktown Scandals” show, and Fate Marable; 1942-45 played with U.S. Navy band at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, IL; played with Lionel Hampton, George Hudson, Charlie Barnet, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Charlie Ventura; joined Count Basie’s big band and smaller combo, 1948-51; joined Duke Ellington orchestra, 1951-59; NBC staff musician, including “Tonight Show,” 1960-1972; co-led combo with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer; formed big band, 1973; taught as clinician in high schools and colleges throughout the country; served as State Department jazz ambassador.
Awards: Down Beat “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition,” 1963; Beacon in Jazz Award, New School of Music, New York, 1991;
Addresses: Home— 218-14 36th Avenue, Bayside, NY 11360.
a member of his sax section. Terry played in a local drum and bugle corps before moving in with an older sister, where he helped pay the bills by hauling ashes. At about the same time he realized that his childhood dream of becoming a boxer did not mesh with the stronger desire to play the trumpet.
“I always enjoyed practicing,” he told Larry Birnbaum of Down Beat. “A lot of kids like to swim and roller skate, but I found that practicing was fun for me. Later, in the navy, I used to practice out of a clarinet book, because I always wanted to play fast passages, and I noticed that the clarinet books had faster things to play.” Terry was determined to dispel the prevalent myth of his youth that the ability to read and play with technical precision interfered with the jazzfeel. His practicing led to good things. After high school he played with a group called Dollar Bill and Small Change; he traveled with the Rueben & Cherry Carnival; he played for blues singer Ida Cox’s “Darktown Scandals;” he worked with pianist/leader Fate Marable who worked the Mississippi River on riverboats.
In 1942 he began a three-year stint in the United States Navy, playing with the elite band at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago under the leadership of alto saxophonist Willie Smith. Among his band-mates there were Wilkins and trumpeter Gerald Wilson, who was later to become the leader himself of several notable bands. After leaving the Navy, Terry spent a few months with Lionel Hampton’s band, then returned to St. Louis for a tour with George Hudson at Club Plantation. The band earned gigs and praises in New York, but after 18 months, the trumpeter moved to California where he played with the Charlie Barnet band for nearly a year. While on the coast he played with singer/saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, with whom he made his first commercial recordings. He also played for a while with reedman Charlie Ventura.
In 1948, Terry joined the legendary Count Basie orchestra. Terry joined the trumpet section of the big band, but when economic stress struck, Basie was forced to reduce to a much smaller unit, usually an octet. The trumpeter returned for a while when Basie was able to reinstate the full band, which he led until his death. Terry convinced Basie to hire Wilkins as a reedman, but more importantly for his contributions to the band’s song-book. Wilkins arranged such hits as the Joe Williams vocal showcase, “Everyday I Have the Blues.” As Terry said in Jazz Spoken Here, “Basie taught us to slow down and play a note and use the space. Use the rhythm section. All that space in between is still a part of your solo. So Basie was very, very influential to me.”
Jazz pioneer Duke Ellington heard Terry play with Basie in 1951, and decided he wanted Terry’s sound in his band, but did not want to appear to be stealing from Basie’s band. Terry feigned illness, as he explained to Birnbaum; “Duke said he would put me on salary, and that I should go home to St. Louis and wait until the band came through, and I would just happen to join them there. So I gave my notice to Basie—he took back the raise he had just given me—and I went to St. Louis and joined Duke.” Terry often refers to his nearly nine-year stay with Duke as “attending the University of Ellingtonia,” and the Basie experience as “prep school for acceptance” into that university. Ellington incorporated Terry’s unique voice into his sonic palette just as he had with other stars, like saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney, trumpeters Cootie Williams and Bubber Miley, and trombonists Lawrence Brown and “Tricky Sam’Nanton. Terry also did some writing and arranging for Ellington.
Upon leaving Ellington in 1959, Terry joined Quincy Jones’ orchestra to play Harold Arlen’s blues opera, Free and Easy. Its lukewarm reception actually led to Terry being hired by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in March of 1960. In a 1995 Jazz Times cover story celebrating Terry’s 75th birthday, he told Bob Blumenthal how this came about. The Urban League had inquired of NBC why they had so few black employees, only to be told that there were no black people qualified to play music on television. The League sent out questionnaires seeking musicians who could “play studio music, read music, play in a section, play first trumpet, solo…. My name happened to come up on all the questionnaires,” related Terry. The folding of Tree and Easy” allowed the trumpeter to accept NBC’s offer.
Soon he became a fixture in the “Tonight Show” band, with which he was often featured in the “stump the band” segment, sometimes performing what had become somewhat of a trademark, his “Mumbles” act. Describing this act in Jazz Lives, Gene Lees wrote, “[Terry] is, as well, the most inventively humorous scat singer I’ve ever heard. His ‘lyrics’ tread to the edge of the salacious, then decay into the incomprehensible. This practice has earned him the nickname Mumbles.” While at NBC, Terry maintained a break neck pace that included a regular, daily shift of commercial shows for both radio and television as well as the “Tonight Show.” Concurrently he coled a quintet with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer at the Half Note club, which often ended at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., sometimes followed by an 8:00 a.m. call atthe studio. Gradually, however, network musical staffs decreased drastically.
When the “Tonight Show” moved to California in 1972, leader/trumpeter Doc Severinson offered Terry a chance to move with it, but he decided to remain in New York. He formed his Big B-A-D Band, staffed mostly by younger players and blessed by the arrangements of colleagues Ernie Wilkins, Frank Wess, Frank Foster, Phil Woods and others. The band recorded a live concert at Carnegie Hall and toured Europe, proving musically successful but a drain financially. Beginning in 1972, Terry joined promoter Norman Granz for a stint with the Jazz at the Philharmonic, as usual maintaining a broad scheduleof free-lancing, which later included aseriesof tours to foreign countries as a musical ambassador under the auspices of the Department of State.
While at NBC, Terry began an activity that has become a major focus of his efforts for more than two decades when he and other members of Severinson’s band were invited to visit local schools. As Terry related to Blumenthal, “The jazz education scene was just taking off, it was very much in its infancy. It grew, and I just stuck with it. It’s one of the most enjoyable things I do.” His jazz education efforts included: the formation of the Harlem Youth Band; countless appearances at high schools and colleges throughout the country; regular summer camps for youth; and the establishment of the Clark Terry Institute of Jazz Studies at Tiekyo University near Sioux City, Iowa.
Among those he has mentored are the Marsalis brothers, trumpet sensation Wynton, and saxophonist Bran-ford, who eventually succeeded Severinson as the leader of the “Tonight Show” band. In 1997 Terry was selected, along with other outstanding clinicians, to participate in Jazz Fest USA, an educational festival in Orlando, Florida, presented by Down Beat, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, and Universal Studios.
Most trumpeters credit Terry for re-introducing the flugelhorn to jazz. The larger-bored, softer-sounding horn had virtually disappeared until, as Terry told Blumenthal, “I got in contact with Keith Eckert, who was technical advisor for Selmer Brass, and we developed the first flugelhorn that Selmer put out in this country.” Flugelhorns became a common sight on jazz bandstands and Olds produced the “CT” model, made to the specifications of Clark Terry. Terry was also partly responsible for trumpeters earning “doubling” pay when required to play both horns, just as almost all reed players receive if they play more than one instrument.
Though the flugelhom requires more breath to fill it, Terry was as agile with it as he is with his trumpet. A master of triple-tonguing, he also utilized circular breathing, which allows one to play seemingly endless phrases without pausing to take a normal breath. Terry’s major influence was Louis Armstrong. In his 1988 album Portraits, Terry honors other trumpeters he admires: Bunny Berigan, Roy Eldridge, Miles Davis, Harry Edison, and Harry James.
Duke with a Difference (with Johnny Hodges), Riverside, 1957.
In Orbit (with Thelonious Monk), Riverside, 1958, reissue OJC, 1987.
Oscar Peterson Trio Plus One (includes “Mumbles,” “Incoherent Blues”), Mercury, 1964.
The Happy Horns of Clark Terry, Impulse!, 1964, reissue 1994..
Gingerbread Men (with Bob Brookmeyer), Mainstream, 1966.
Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry, Pablo, 1975.
Portraits, Chesky, 1988.
The Clark Terry Spacemen, Chiaroscuro, 1989.
Enstice, Wayne and Paul Rubin, Jazz Spoken Here: Conversations with Twenty-Two Musicians; Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
Erlewine, Michael, et al, eds., All Music Guide to Jazz; Miller Freeman Books, 1996.
Gitler, Ira, Swing to Bop; Oxford University Press, 1985.
Holtje, Steve and Nancy Ann Lee, Eds., Music Hound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide; Visible Ink Press, 1998.
Lees, Gene, Jazz Lives: 100 Portraits in Jazz; Firefly, 1992.
AARP Bulletin, June, 1998.
Down Beat, September, 1981; June, 1986; April, 1989; October, 1994; June, 1996; July, 1997.
Jazz Times, October, 1995.
Jet, June 24, 1991; May 24, 1993.
Terry, Clark 1920–
Clark Terry 1920–
When readers inducted Clark Terry into Down Beat’s Hall of Fame in 2000, the 80-year-old trumpeter told the magazine’s John McDonough, “I never would have believed that. I’m flabbergasted.” Fans, however, knew the trumpeter had earned his place among the greats. Terry’s career encompassed more than 60 years of performing, from the small clubs of St. Louis during the 1930s, to a long run on the Tonight Show during the 1960s, to becoming a goodwill ambassador for the State Department in the 1970s. He re-introduced the flugelhorn to jazz, and took an active interest in the education of young musicians. Despite his many achievements, Terry is best known for his performance style, which is filled with humor and good taste. Scott Yanow noted in All Music Guide to Jazz: “Possessor of the happiest sound in jazz, fluegelhornist Clark Terry always plays music that is exuberant, swinging and fun.”
Terry was born in St. Louis on December 14, 1920, and grew up in poor circumstances. As many Chicago blues guitarists would craft their first instruments out of brooms and wire, Terry built his first trumpet from a piece of hose, a funnel, and a mouthpiece made of pipe. “It made a lot of noise,” he told Mitchell Seidel in another article in Down Beat. “There must have been a method to my madness, because the neighbors got sick of me blowing that horrendous noise on that gadget, so they chipped in and collected the $12.50 and bought me a trumpet from a pawn shop.” Terry told John McDonough in Down Beat, “I never really had a teacher. I was hard-headed, stubborn, asked a lot of questions and got a lot of wrong answers.” Terry preferred practicing to the usual teenage activities, and dedicated so much time to playing the trumpet that he eventually gave up boxing, his other favorite pastime.
After high school Terry joined a series of bands, including Dollar Bill and the Small Change, Rueben and Cherry Carnival, and Ida Cox’s Darktown Scandals. He even worked for a short time on Mississippi River boats with pianist Fate Marable. Beginning in 1942 he served three years in the United States Navy, where he joined an elite band led by saxophonist Willie Smith. After his stint in the Navy he played for a brief period with Lionel Hampton in Chicago and then with George Hudson in
At a Glance…
Born on December 14, 1920, in St. Louis, MO; married Gwendolyn Paris, 1992; children: Gary Paris (stepson).
Career: Played with Dollar Bill and Small Change, Rueben & Cherry Carnival, and Ida Cox’s Darktown Scandals, late 1930s and early 1940s; performed with United States Navy Band, 1942-45; played with Lionel Hampton, George Hudson, Charlie Barnet, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, and Charlie Ventura, mid-1940s; joined Count Basie’s band, 1948-51; joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra, 1951-59; worked as a NBC staff musician, including the Tonight Show, 1960-72; formed big band, 1973; promoted music education in high school and colleges, and served as a goodwill ambassador for the State Department.
Awards: Inducted into National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Hall of Fame, 1991; Beacon in Jazz Award, New School of Music, New York, 1991; inducted into Down Beat Hall of Fame, 2000.
Address: Record Label— c/o Chesky Records, 355 W. 52nd St, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
St. Louis. The 27-year-old trumpeter realized his potential, however, when he joined Charlie Barnet’s band in the summer of 1947. McDonough wrote of an early recording, “Terry’s voice is instantly obvious from the beginning on ‘Sleep,’ his first feature with Barnet, which he also arranged.” Terry’s work with Barnet also prepared him to join the legendary Count Basie in 1948, where he remained for the next two years.
In 1951, while still playing for Basie, Terry received another offer he couldn’t refuse: Duke Ellington liked Terry’s horn work and wanted him to join his new band. There was hitch, though. Ellington wanted the transfer to take place without Basie realizing he was stealing one of Basie’s band members. It was decided that Ellington would put the trumpeter on his payroll, and then Terry, feigning sickness, would return to St. Louis for three months before joining the band. Basie let Terry go and paid him for his last two weeks, but withdrew an earlier $15 raise from the check. Terry told Downbeat’s Seidel that when he confessed the whole scheme years later, Basie wasn’t surprised: ‘“Why the hell do you think I took the raise back?’”
Terry’s sound was more modern than many of his contemporaries, leading critics to wonder if he would fit into a more old-fashioned band. The blend of old and new, however, rejuvenated the Ellington group’s sound and helped to make it relevant after the revolution of bop. Terry told Seidel, “I usually refer to my stint with the Ellington band as the period during which I attended the University of Ellingtonia.” He would remain with the band for nine years, sharing in such artistic highlights as the band’s appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956. “By the time the band hit its stride at Newport in 1956,” wrote McDonough, “Terry had become an integral, even seminal part of Ellington’s sound.”
In 1959 Terry joined Quincy Jones’s orchestra to play Free and Easy, an opera by Harold Arlen, and in 1960 he received an offer to join the Tonight Show band. The offer was unusual at the time: few African Americans worked for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). When the Urban League complained to the network that it employed too few black musicians, NBC replied that blacks lacked the qualities required of professional studio musicians, such as reading music charts. The Urban League then sent out a survey to find musicians who met NBC’s qualifications, and when Terry’s name turned up on every list, NBC offered him the job.
Terry remained at NBC for 12 years. His parody of scat singing became a regular feature on the Tonight Show and earned him the nickname of “Mumbles.” He maintained a busy schedule throughout the 1960s, working on a variety of commercial radio and television programs for NBC, and co-leading a band with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer at the Half Note. When the Tonight Show relocated to the West Coast in 1972, he remained on the East Coast and began freelancing. In the 1970s Terry also started working for the State Department, carrying American jazz to Africa, the Middle East, and Pakistan. “It was fun, really,” he told McDonough. “You felt like you were doing something important for your country.”
Terry also became an advocate for music education, both as a mentor and teacher. He received honorary doctorates from the University of New Hampshire and Southeast Missouri State University, and was named director of the Clark Terry International Institute for Jazz Studies at Teikyo International University’s West-mar campus in Iowa. He served as a mentor to a number of young musicians, including Wynton and Bradford Marsalis, and founded a summer band camp at Teikyo-Westmar. “I made a vow years ago that if I ever got into a situation where I could impart knowledge to youth,” he told Seidel, “I would go about it as diligently as I possibly can.”
During the 1980s and 1990s, Terry maintained an active touring and recording schedule. In 1993 he recorded What a Wonderful World: For Louis. Yanow noted in All Music Guide to Jazz that “72-year-old Clark Terry is in exuberant form throughout this very enjoyable disc.” In 1995 the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band held a “Tribute to Trumpets” to commemorate Terry’s seventy-fifth birthday. When asked by Gene Seymour in Newsday how he felt about turning 75, Terry said: “Well you feel old. Mostly. Though I guess I’m feeling more like a classic automobile that’s weathered the storm, proved to be of more of value.” Fans and jazz critics concur. “It is tempting to call every jazz musician who reaches age 70 a legend,” wrote Tim Blangger in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, Morning Call, “although few jazz veterans wear the title as well as trumpeter Clark Terry.”
Clark Terry, EmArcy, 1955.
Duke with a Difference, Original Jazz Classic, 1957.
Color Changes, Candid, 1960.
Oscar Peterson Trio with Clark Terry, Mercury, 1964.
Yes, the Blues, Pablo, 1981.
To Duke and Basie, Enja, 1986.
Portraits, Chesky, 1988.
The Clark Terry Spacemen, Chiaroscuro, 1989.
What a Wonderful World: For Louis, Red Baron, 1993.
Erlewine, Michael, ed., All Music Guide to Jazz, Miller Freeman, 1998, pp. 1084, 1086.
Down Beat, October 1994, p. 22; June 1996, p. 15; December 2000, pp. 34, 36, 38.
Morning Call (Allentown, PA), July 16, 1998, p. B2.
Newsday, February 22, 1995, p. B7.
“Clark Terry,” All Music Guide to Jazz, www.allmusic.com (March 3, 2003).
“Clark Terry,” Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (May 5, 2003)
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.