State Department Ambassador for Race Relations – Clark Terry, Jazz Great

Clark Terry, born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1920, has a career spanning more than six decades. When Terry was a child, he made his first horn out of a garden hose, a funnel, and a piece of pipe. There was no money in his family of ten children to buy a horn. Recognizing his determination, his neighbors collected $12.50 to buy him a trumpet at a pawn shop.

At Vashion High School, he learned to play a bugle in the Tom Powell Drum and Bugle Corps and later learned to play the valve trombone. After graduating, Terry’s talent for playing the trumpet allowed his budding sound to penetrate the local St. Louis music scene, filled at the time with blues, a form that was rapidly evolving into other new indigenous music. american.

In summer, St. Louis, a hot, humid place by the river and a freezing place in winter, it was the intensely creative atmosphere, no matter the season, that exposed Terry to his first professional exposure to swing, bebop, and primitive jazz, which was breaking new ground in riverside pubs, smoky nightclubs, back alleys, and basements along the Mississippi River in the 1930s and ’40s.”

During World War II, Clark Terry joined the US Navy and was posted to Naval Station Great Lakes (1942-1945), where he joined the Navy Band, gained valuable lessons in discipline, he developed his practice technique from a clarinet book and understood John Philip Sousa’s contributions to the US military musical convention.

After honorable discharge from the service and for the next several years, Terry worked with Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Charlie Ventura, George Hudson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington, Ben Webster, Doc Severinsen, Ray Charles, Billy Strayhorn, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Milt Jackson, Bob Brookmeyer, Jon Faddis, and Dianne Reeves.

However, it was with the Ellington band that Terry became a national musical sensation. Becoming a connoisseur and creator of lively jazz, with which he sought to lift his own spirits and that of his listeners, Terry’s impeccable taste in note selection and musical phrasing made him famous for his delightful treatment of traditional performance. in his unique musical style. .

Terry’s highest-profile position came in 1960 when he was hired by the NBC-TV Orchestra, conducted by Doc Severenson, on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, making Terry the first African-American musician on the NBC staff, where during 12 years old was a success with his singing invention, ‘Mumbles’, based on a combination of vocal creep and dispersion, which he performed with a jazz musical rhythm. In 1972, when The Tonight Show was moving from New York to Los Angeles, Severenson asked his popular trumpeter to move in with the NBC Orchestra, but Terry turned down the offer and made the difficult decision to leave The Tonight Show and stay. In New York. where he was in demand as a studio musician and popular performer.

After becoming an international jazz luminary, Terry toured the United States and the world as part of the Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic and became a jazz ambassador for the US Department of State at the 1970s. At some point, Terry began experimenting with the flugelhorn and consulting with industry experts about modifying the construction of the instrument’s anatomy in order to resurrect its failing reputation and reintroduce it as a jazz instrument. Terry then made the flugelhorn his main instrument, a bold and innovative choice that led to him paying double when he was hired to play flugelhorn and trumpet in the same show.

Terry has performed at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, and Lincoln Center, and toured with the Newport Jazz All Stars, Jazz at the Philharmonic, and the New York Pops. He made several recordings with major groups including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Dutch Metropole Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Clark Terry’s Big Bad Band and Clark Terry’s Young Titans of Jazz.

The texts in which Terry wrote about the trumpet and jazz as a form of music are used throughout the world. Host of the Clark Terry Jazz Festivals since 2000, he also directs the Clark Terry International Institute for Jazz Studies at Westmar University, runs his own Big Band Jazz Summer Camp, and advises the International Association of Jazz Educators. . A bronze statue of Clark Terry adorns the St. Louis Walk of Fame along with statues of other musicians, including Chuck Berry, Scott Joplin, Miles Davis, Tina Turner, and hip-hop star Nelly.

Winner of Grammy Awards and a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, Clark Terry was inducted into the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991. Much of Terry’s benevolence to helping young Trumpet players to obtain instruments may have been born out of their own family’s financial inability to purchase an instrument when they were a child eager to learn to play.