Clark Terry Biography

14 December 1920, St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Terry gained invaluable experience playing trumpet in local bands, but developed his remarkable technique while in the US Navy. As he recalled for jazz writer Steve Voce, he practised using a clarinet book, preferring the more fluid sound this generated in his playing. After his military service he joined Charlie Barnet, then became a mainstay of the Count Basie band for three years until 1951, when he joined Duke Ellington for an eight-year stint. At the end of the 50s he went into studio work in New York City, becoming one of the first black musicians regularly to be employed in this way. For a dozen years he was featured in the Doc Severinsen band, which played on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. During this time he continued to play in jazz groups for club and record dates, working with Bob Brookmeyer, J.J. Johnson and others, and also leading his own ‘Big B-A-D Band’, which featured many leading New York session men. In the early 70s Terry became a member of Norman Granz’s Pablo edition of Jazz At The Philharmonic, and began playing flügelhorn, eventually making this his principal instrument. The 70s and 80s found him touring extensively, playing concerts, clubs and festivals around the world, usually as leader but ably blending in with almost any background from late swing style to post-bop.

Terry’s remarkable technical accomplishment has never overwhelmed the depth of emotion that imbues his playing, and neither of these characteristics has ever dampened his infectious humour. This quality is most readily apparent on his singing of ‘Mumbles’, for which he created a unique variation on scat. His duets with himself, during which he plays flügelhorn and trumpet, are remarkable displays of his astonishing skills yet never degenerate into mere bravura exercises. Terry remained a major figure in the history of jazz trumpet into the beginning of the new century, after a lifetime as one of the music’s most respected and widely admired ambassadors.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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