Clark Terry
National Visionary

Born on December 10, 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri

Virtuoso, jazz trumpet player, and educator

A world renowned jazz flugelhornist and trumpeter, Clark Terry is known for his musical blend of artistry, energy and good taste.   As an enthusiastic propagator of the jazz tradition, Terry is a devoted educator who teaches young people about the music and the history that comprise this art form.

Terry was born the seventh of ten children to Mary and Clark Terry on December 10, 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri.   Terry's father worked for a gas company, and his mother, who did day work, died when Terry was only seven years old.   Terry's early introduction to music came when his older sister, Ada, married tuba player, Sy McField.   McField was performing with Dewey Jackson and the Musical Ambassadors, and one of the members of the band, the trumpet player, owned a candy store and used to give Terry caramels and Mary Jane's.   Not incidentally, this early experience incited Terry's fondness for the trumpet.   While Terry states that he never had a formal music lesson, hearing the Musical Ambassadors inspired him to try his hand at creating a musical sound of his own.   With a piece of garden hose and other discarded parts, Terry and his brother made their own instruments.   The neighbors, tired of hearing the noise from Terry's homemade contraption, pitched in and bought him a $12.50 trumpet from a pawn shop.   From then on Terry began a dedicated course of self-education, learning by trial and error how to play the trumpet.  

After attending Vashon High School, Terry performed in small club in St. Louis, before joining the Navy in 1942, where he played with the United States Naval Band while stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago.   After leaving the Navy in 1945, Terry played with jazz notables such as Lionel Hampton, George Hudson, and Charlie Barnet.   In 1948 Terry joined the legendary Count Basie, with whom he remained until 1951 when another of the jazz world's greats, Duke Ellington, lured Terry away from Basie.   Terry played with Ellington for the next eight years, during which time Terry recalls being inducted into the "University of Ellingtonia." Terry states that Ellington had an uncanny way of getting the best out of his musicians, a skill Terry says he acquired from Ellington by "osmosis."   He explains: "so many things you don't even know you possess, until you get up there on the bench, then you reach for the Ellington.   Bang.   And it works every time." ( Post Standard 4/13/97).    While Terry undoubtedly gained an invaluable education playing with Ellington, Terry's modern, exuberant style rejuvenated the Ellington group's more traditional sound, as well.  

In 1959 Terry joined Quincy Jones's orchestra to play Harold Arlen's opera, Free and Easy .   One year later, Terry accepted an offer to join the Tonight Show band and became the first African American staff musician to work for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).   Terry credits the Urban League, for confronting NBC about the lack of African American musicians employed by the company.   When NBC responded that blacks were not suited for work as professional studio musicians, the Urban League submitted Terry's name on a list of qualified musicians.   NBC offered him the job, and    Terry remained there for twelve years as one of the spotlighted players in the Tonight Show band.   It was during this time he received the nickname, Mumbles, for his smash-hit parody of scat singing.   When the Tonight Show moved to Los Angeles, Terry remained in New York.   He continued to do freelance work and lead Clark Terry's Big B-A-D Band, which he had formed in 1966.   He recorded regularly in the 1960s, including a classic set with the Oscar Peterson Trio and performed several dates with the quintet he co-led with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. In the 1970s, he performed in Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan as a goodwill ambassador for the State Department.   Since the 1970s Terry has performed at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall and Lincoln Center, toured with the Newport Jazz All Stars and was featured with Skitch Henderson's New York Pops Orchestra.   In 1986 Terry recorded the tribute, To Duke and Basie, and in 1993 he honored Louis Armstrong on his What a Wonderful World: For Lou.   He also received praise for his 2004 rendition of Porgy and Bess .  

In addition to his illustrious touring and recording career, Terry has long-served as one of the country's premier jazz educators.   He has hosted numerous jazz camps and clinics, served as the jazz artist-in-residence at William Paterson University, and frequently mentors and plays with the next generation of up-and-coming musicians.   In 2004, as part of his commitment to promoting the legacy and history of jazz, Terry donated his personal archives, including manuscripts, recordings, instruments and even an African walking stick given to him by Dizzy Gillespie, to William Paterson University.   Despite his fight with diabetes, which has affected his vision, and his surgery for colon cancer that has been in remission for three years, Terry continues to play jazz and educate young musicians.  

A veritable institution of the jazz tradition, Terry has composed more than 200 jazz songs, performed for seven US presidents, received 13 honorary doctorates, played with nearly every jazz musician in the business and served as a mentor to Quincy Jones, Miles Davis and Wynton and Bradford Marsalis.   He has received a Grammy Award, two Grammy certificates, three Grammy nominations, was knighted in Germany, inducted into the NEA Jazz Hall of Fame and is the recipient of the prestigious French Order of Arts and Letters.  

Terry has two sons, Hiawatha and Victor (deceased) and two stepsons, Gary and Tony.   He lives in with his wife, Gwen and continues to perform at venues around the world.  


Clark Terry's Wikipedia page

Quincy Jones' Visionary Page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/terryclark