Goodbye, Clark Terry

Volume 115, No. 4April, 2015

Clark TerryClark Terry, 94, a Local 802 member since 1954, died on Feb. 21. His career in jazz spanned more than 70 years. Mr. Terry was a world-class trumpeter, flugelhornist, educator, composer, writer, trumpet/flugelhorn designer, teacher and NEA Jazz Master. He performed for seven U.S. presidents, and served as a jazz ambassador for State Department tours in the Middle East and Africa.

Mr. Terry was one of the most recorded musicians in the history of jazz, with more than 900 recordings to his credit. His discography reads like a Who’s Who in jazz, with personnel that included Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington, Ben Webster, Aretha Franklin, Charlie Barnet, Doc Severinsen, Ray Charles, Billy Strayhorn, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan, Sarah Vaughan, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Milt Jackson, Bob Brookmeyer and Dianne Reeves.

Mr. Terry performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Count Basie Orchestra, Dutch Metropole Orchestra, Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Woody Herman Orchestra, Herbie Mann Orchestra, Donald Byrd Orchestra, and many others, including his own Big Bad Band and Clark Terry’s Young Titans of Jazz.

Mr. Terry wrote more than 200 jazz compositions as well as books such as “Let’s Talk Trumpet: From Legit to Jazz, Interpretation of the Jazz Language” and “Clark Terry’s System of Circular Breathing for Woodwind and Brass Instruments,” which he co-wrote with Phil Rizzo. He also wrote an autobiography, which was published in 2011.

After serving in the Navy from 1942 to 1945, Mr. Terry’s musical star rose rapidly with successful stints in the bands of George Hudson, Charlie Barnet, Charlie Ventura, Eddie Vinson and Count Basie. In 1951, Mr. Terry was asked to join Duke Ellington’s renowned orchestra, where he stayed for eight years as a featured soloist. Following a tour in the jazz musical “Free and Easy” with music director Quincy Jones, Mr. Terry’s international recognition soared when he broke the color barrier by accepting an offer in 1960 from NBC to become its first African-American staff musician. He was with NBC for 12 years as one of the spotlighted musicians in the Tonight Show band. During that time, he scored a smash hit as a singer with his irrepressible song “Mumbles.”

After his stint at NBC, between his performances and recording dates at concerts, clubs, cruises and jazz festivals, Mr. Terry became more dedicated to his greatest passion – jazz education. He organized a Harlem youth band, which became the seed for the Jazzmobile program. Billy Taylor urged him to teach more, and Mr. Terry began to organize other youth bands and influence many other jazz legends to teach with him at jazz camps, clinics and festivals. Mr. Terry utlimately became an adviser to the International Association of Jazz Educators and an adjunct professor at William Paterson University, where his archives now reside. He was also the academic council chair of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. “Teaching jazz allows me to play a part in making dreams come true for aspiring musicians,” Mr. Terry was quoted as saying.

To celebrate his contributions to jazz education, Mr. Terry was honored with 15 honorary doctorates and three adjunct professorships. The governments of France and Austria each presented Mr. Terry with their esteemed Arts and Letters awards, and he was knighted in Germany. In 2010, Mr. Terry won a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy. In 2014, Mr. Terry appeared in a documentary called “Keep on Keepin’ On” about his mentoring relationship with pianist Justin Kauflin.

Mr. Terry is survived by his wife Gwen, stepsons Gary and Tony, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Allegro interviewed Clark Terry twice over the years – once as recently as a year ago and once in 2002.

Obituary information edited from Mr. Terry’s official biography/press kit at