Clark Terry
Terry at the 1981 Monterey Jazz Festival
Terry at the 1981 Monterey Jazz Festival
Background information
Birth nameClark Virgil Terry Jr.
Born(1920-12-14)December 14, 1920
St. Louis, Missouri, US
DiedFebruary 21, 2015(2015-02-21) (aged 94)
Pine Bluff, Arkansas, US
  • Musician
  • composer
Years active1940s–2015

Clark Virgil Terry Jr.[1] (December 14, 1920 – February 21, 2015)[2] was an American swing and bebop trumpeter, a pioneer of the flugelhorn in jazz, and a composer and educator.

He played with Charlie Barnet (1947), Count Basie (1948–51),[3] Duke Ellington (1951–59),[3] Quincy Jones (1960), and Oscar Peterson (1964–96). He was with The Tonight Show Band on The Tonight Show from 1962 to 1972. His career in jazz spanned more than 70 years, during which he became one of the most recorded jazz musicians, appearing on over 900 recordings. Terry also mentored Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Dianne Reeves, and Terri Lyne Carrington.[4]

Early life

Terry was born to Clark Virgil Terry Sr. and Mary Terry in St. Louis, Missouri, on December 14, 1920.[1][3] He attended Vashon High School and began his professional career in the early 1940s, playing in local clubs. He served as a bandsman in the United States Navy during World War II. His first instrument was valve trombone.[5]

Terry at the 1981 Monterey Jazz Festival

Big band era

Blending the St. Louis tone with contemporary styles, Terry's years with Basie and Ellington (who secretly recruited Terry away from Basie)[6] in the late 1940s and 1950s established his prominence. During his period with Ellington, he took part in many of the composer's suites and acquired a reputation for his wide range of styles (from swing to hard bop), technical proficiency, and good humor. Terry influenced musicians including Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, both of whom acknowledged Terry's influence during the early stages of their careers. Terry had informally taught Davis while they were still in St Louis,[7] and Jones during Terry's frequent visits to Seattle with the Count Basie Sextet.[8]

After leaving Ellington in 1959, Clark's international recognition soared when he accepted an offer from the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) to become a staff musician. He appeared for ten years on The Tonight Show as a member of the Tonight Show Band until 1972, first led by Skitch Henderson and later by Doc Severinsen, where his unique "mumbling" scat singing led to a hit with "Mumbles".[9] Terry was the first African American to become a regular in a band on a major US television network. He said later: "We had to be models, because I knew we were in a test.... We couldn't have a speck on our trousers. We couldn't have a wrinkle in the clothes. We couldn't have a dirty shirt."[10]

Clark has many relationships in the music world and they all speak highly of him. One of those relationships was Quincy Jones, who wrote the preface to Terry's autobiography. Jones led a band for the musical Free and Easy in 1959, and Terry left Duke Ellington Orchestra to join them in Belgium [11]

Terry continued to play with musicians such as trombonist J. J. Johnson and pianist Oscar Peterson,[12] and led a group with valve-trombonist Bob Brookmeyer that achieved some success in the early 1960s. In February 1965, Brookmeyer and Terry appeared on BBC2's Jazz 625.[13] and in 1967, presented by Norman Granz, he was recorded at Poplar Town Hall, in the BBC series Jazz at the Philharmonic, alongside James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Bob Cranshaw, Louie Bellson and T-Bone Walker.[14]

In the 1970s, Terry concentrated increasingly on the flugelhorn, which he played with a full, ringing tone. In addition to his studio work and teaching at jazz workshops, Terry toured regularly in the 1980s with small groups (including Peterson's) and performed as the leader of his Big B-A-D Band (formed about 1970). After financial difficulties forced him to break up the Big B-A-D Band, he performed with bands such as the Unifour Jazz Ensemble. His humor and command of jazz trumpet styles are apparent in his "dialogues" with himself, on different instruments or on the same instrument, muted and unmuted.

Later career

Terry in New York City, 1976

From the 1970s through the 1990s, Terry performed at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, and Lincoln Center, toured with the Newport Jazz All Stars and Jazz at the Philharmonic, and was featured with Skitch Henderson's New York Pops Orchestra. In 1998, Terry recorded George Gershwin's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot + Rhapsody, a tribute to George Gershwin, which raised money for various charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease.[15]

In November 1980, he was a headliner along with Anita O'Day, Lionel Hampton and Ramsey Lewis during the opening two-week ceremony performances celebrating the short-lived resurgence of the Blue Note Lounge at the Marriott O'Hare Hotel near Chicago.[16]

Prompted early in his career by Billy Taylor, Clark and Milt Hinton bought instruments for and gave instruction to young hopefuls, which planted the seed that became Jazz Mobile in Harlem. This venture tugged at Terry's greatest love: involving youth in the perpetuation of jazz. From 2000 onwards, he hosted Clark Terry Jazz Festivals on land and sea, held his own jazz camps, and appeared in more than fifty jazz festivals on six continents. Terry composed more than two hundred jazz songs and performed for eight U.S. Presidents.[17]

He also had several recordings with major groups including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Dutch Metropole Orchestra, and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, hundreds of high school and college ensembles, his own duos, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, octets, and two big bands: Clark Terry's Big Bad Band and Clark Terry's Young Titans of Jazz.

In February 2004, Terry guest starred as himself, on Little Bill, a children's television series. Terry was a resident of Bayside, Queens, and Corona, Queens, New York, later moving to Haworth, New Jersey, and then Pine Bluff, Arkansas.[18][19]

His autobiography was published in 2011.[4] Taylor Ho Bynum wrote in The New Yorker that it "captures his gift for storytelling and his wry humor, especially in chronicling his early years on the road, with struggles through segregation and gigs in juke joints and carnivals, all while developing one of most distinctive improvisational voices in music history."[20]

The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings notes that Terry appears on more of its listed recordings than any other artist.[21] According to his own website Terry was "one of the most recorded jazz artists in history and had performed for eight American Presidents."[22] He was adept in the challenging technique of circular breathing, by which an instrumentalist can play for extended periods without stopping for breath,[23] and in 1976 he published his Clark Terry's System of Circular Breathing for Woodwind and Brass Instruments.[24]

In April 2014, the documentary Keep on Keepin' On, followed Terry over four years, to document his mentorship of the 23-year-old blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin, as Kauflin prepared to compete in an elite, international competition.[25]

In December 2014 the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and Cécile McLorin Salvant visited Terry, who had celebrated his 94th birthday on December 14, at the Jefferson Regional Medical Center. A lively rendition of "Happy Birthday" was played.[26]

Death and tributes

Terry performing at the White House with singer Nnenna Freelon in 2006

On February 13, 2015, it was announced that Terry had entered hospice care to manage his advanced diabetes.[27] He died on February 21, 2015.[2][28]

Writing in The New York Times, Peter Keepnews said Terry "was acclaimed for his impeccable musicianship, loved for his playful spirit and respected for his adaptability. Although his sound on both trumpet and the rounder-toned flugelhorn (which he helped popularize as a jazz instrument) was highly personal and easily identifiable, he managed to fit it snugly into a wide range of musical contexts."[29]

Writing in UK's The Daily Telegraph, Martin Chilton said: "Terry was a music educator and had a deep and lasting influence on the course of jazz. Terry became a mentor to generations of jazz players, including Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and composer-arranger Quincy Jones."[10]

Interviewing Terry in 2005, fellow jazz trumpeter Scotty Barnhart said he was "... one of the most incredibly versatile musicians to ever live ... a jazz trumpet master that played with the greatest names in the history of the music ..."[30]

Southeast Missouri State University hosts the Clark Terry/Phi Mu Alpha Jazz Festival, an annual tribute to the musician. The festival began in 1998, and has grown in size every year. The festival showcases outstanding student musicians and guest artists at the university's River Campus.[31][32]

The University of New Hampshire hosts the Clark Terry Jazz Festival every year; it showcases middle- and high-school jazz musicians from all over New England.[33]

Awards and honors

Terry performing with the Great Lakes Navy Band Jazz Ensemble

Over 250 awards, medals and honors, including:


As leader/co-leader

As sideman



  1. ^ a b "Clark Terry (1920–2015)". The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Marc Schneider (February 21, 2015). "Jazz Musician Clark Terry Dies at 94". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Yanow, Scott Clark Terry biography at Allmusic.
  4. ^ a b Terry, C. Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry, University of California Press (2011).
  5. ^ Stephen Graham. "Clark Terry has died". Marlbank. Archived from the original on January 19, 2019. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  6. ^ Clark! The Autobiography of Clark Terry. University of California Press. 2011. pp. 123–124, 126. ISBN 9780-520-26846-3 – via
  7. ^ "Trumpeter Clark Terry Shares Jazz Memories". January 1, 2005. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  8. ^ Jones, Quincy (1993). "Newport 1958". In Tucker, Mark (ed.). The Duke Ellington Reader. Oxford University Press. pp. 311–312. ISBN 0-19-509391-7.
  9. ^ Adam Bernstein (February 22, 2015). "Clark Terry, jazz virtuoso with Basie, Ellington and 'Tonight Show,' dies". Washington Post. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  10. ^ a b Martin Chilton (February 22, 2015). "Clark Terry, jazz trumpeter, dies aged 94". Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  11. ^ Terry, Clark; Terry, Gwen (June 12, 2015). Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry. Univ of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-28751-8.
  12. ^ Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry at AllMusic
  13. ^ "Tribute to Bob Brookmeyer". December 19, 2011. Retrieved February 10, 2014.
  14. ^ "Jazz at the Philharmonic – Library of Congress". Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  15. ^ Red Hot + Rhapsody: The Gershwin Groove - Various Artists | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic, retrieved October 15, 2021
  16. ^ Hentoff, Nat (2010). At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene (1 ed.). University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26113-6. JSTOR 10.1525/j.ctt1ppqm7.
  17. ^ "Clark Terry: NVLP: African American History". Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  18. ^ Berman, Eleanor, "The jazz of Queens encompasses music royalty" Archived July 20, 2006, at, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 1, 2006. Accessed October 1, 2009. "When the trolley tour proceeds, Mr. Knight points out the nearby Dorie Miller Houses, a co-op apartment complex in Corona where Clark Terry and Cannonball and Nat Adderley lived and where saxophonist Jimmy Heath still resides."
  19. ^ Potter, Beth. "Haworth's Notable Characters", Haworth, New Jersey. Accessed June 22, 2010.
  20. ^ Taylor Ho Bynum, "The Sound of Musical Joy: Clark Terry's Trumpet", The New Yorker, February 24, 2015.
  21. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. p. 1390. ISBN 978-0-141-03401-0.
  22. ^ Neela Debnath (February 22, 2015). "Clark Terry dead: Grammy-winning trumpet player dies aged 94". The Independent. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  23. ^ "Clark Terry dies at 94; jazz trumpeter with Ellington and 'Tonight Show'". Los Angeles Times. February 22, 2015.
  24. ^ Terry, Clark (February 14, 1976). "Clark Terry's System of Circular Breathing for All Woodwind and Brass Instrumentalists". Terry-Rizzo – via Google Books.
  25. ^ A. O. Scott (October 2, 2014). "A Rare Musical Mentorship, Captured With Heart and Soul". The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  26. ^ "Happy 94th Birthday CLARK TERRY!". YouTube. December 14, 2014. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  27. ^ Marc Schneider (February 13, 2015). "Jazz Great Clark Terry Enters Hospice Care". Billboard. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  28. ^ Daniel Kreps (February 22, 2015). "Jazz Great Clark Terry Dead at 94". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  29. ^ Peter Keepnews (February 22, 2015). "Clark Terry, Master of Jazz Trumpet, Dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  30. ^ Barnhart, Scotty (2005). The World of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History & Practical Philosophy. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-0634095276. Chapter 3: Clark Terry, pp. 91-96.
  31. ^ "history – Southeast Missouri State University". Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  32. ^ "Clark Terry/Phi Mu Alpha Jazz Festival – Southeast Missouri State University". Retrieved January 17, 2019.
  33. ^ "The Clark Terry UNH Jazz Festival". July 5, 2018. Retrieved March 14, 2020.
  34. ^ Jazz at Lincoln Center's Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame. "Art Blakey, Lionel Hampton, and Clark Terry inducted into Jazz at Lincoln Center's Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
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  36. ^ "DownBeat Archives". Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  37. ^ "NEA Jazz Masters | NEA". Retrieved April 27, 2017.
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  39. ^ a b "Quincy Jones | Interviews with Clark Terry: Trumpeter, Composer, Mentor. In Memoriam. | American Masters | PBS". American Masters. February 25, 2015. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  40. ^ Terry, Clark; Terry, Gwen (September 1, 2011). Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520268463.
  41. ^ Barnhart, Scotty (January 1, 2005). The World of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History & Practical Philosophy. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 9780634095276.
  42. ^ Michael Juk (April 23, 2012). "Clark Terry's jazz trumpeter heart touches Vancouverites". CBC Music. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  43. ^ "AT THE MOVIES". The New York Times. March 10, 2000. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 27, 2017.
  44. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". Archived from the original on October 31, 2012. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  45. ^ "Arkansas Artists – Arkansas Entertainers – Famous Arkansans". Retrieved April 27, 2017.