Clark Terry: A Tribute
Coda Connections Feature - Spring 2015

​Jazz club lights dimmed a bit when legendary jazz trumpeter/flugelhorn player/educator Clark Terry died on Saturday, February 21, 2015, at the age of 94. He was a large part of the "Who's Who" of the Jazz world, and deserves to have a few of his life achievements highlighted.

At 11 years old, he made his first "trumpet" out of a hose and some metal scraps he found in a junkyard. Like many other youngsters dedicated to the art of music, he paid his dues at the beginning: he played in his high school orchestra, local bands, and even a traveling carnival.

He joined the Navy in 1942, playing at the Great Lakes Training Station. When the war was over, he joined George Hudson's big band, where he not only played the music, but conducted rehearsals, suggested charts, and performed other organization duties. When Hudson's band played Harlem's
Apollo Theater, big names heard Terry's talent, and the offers began.

He played with Lionel Hampton's group and some others before joining Count Basie in 1948. A few years later, he got the break he'd been dreaming of - Duke Ellington's Big Band, making him one of the few musicians to perform with both the Duke and the Count. During his time with Ellington, he focused on playing flugelhorn in an effort to create a more expressive sound, while also becoming a more technically proficient player.

In 1960 Terry became NBC's first black staff musician when he joined the Tonight Show Band, led by Doc Severinsen. When Johnny Carson asked audience members to try to "Stump the Band" with song titles they thought the musicians didn't know, Terry often improvised words and melodies with a smooth, mumbling style of scat singing. It was this joking style of scat he used during a 1964 studio session with Oscar Peterson's trio. The song became a surprise hit, aptly titled "
Mumbles." He stayed with the Tonight Show Band until 1972.

Terry later became a band leader and, thanks to sponsorship from the State Department, was able to tour the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. He became an inspiration to many, including famous performers like
Wynton Marsalis, Miles Davis, and Roy Hargrove.

However, his passion was jazz education: he organized youth bands, and taught at numerous jazz camps, clinics, and festivals. He received 15 honorary doctorates, three adjunct professorships, and dozens of other awards, including a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2010. He taught jazz students literally from all over the world.

Terry can be heard on more than 900 recordings, and wrote more than 200 original compositions. He has performed for eight U.S. presidents. He co-authored a handful of books about various subjects such as different trumpet playing styles, jazz interpretation, and circular breathing. He has performed with greats like Aretha Franklin, Dianne Reeves, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Thelonius Monk, Zoot Sims, and many others.

Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry" includes a preface by Quincy Jones, a foreword by Bill Cosby, and quotes from Nancy Wilson, Clint Eastwood, Dave Brubeck, Billy Dee Williams, and other notable jazz players and enthusiasts. It is available everywhere as both a physical book and an eBook for Kindle, Nook, and other 'e-pub'-compatible readers.

Clark Terry
December 14, 1920 - February 21, 2015

Rest in Peace, Mumbles.

Len Morse
​Trumpet, Percussion