Born December 14, 1920 in St. Louis, MO. One of 10 children; first wife, Pauline, date of marriage and divorce unknown; married Gwendolyn Paris, 1992; stepson Gary Paris. Addresses: 218-14 36th Avenue, Bayside, NY 11360.

For more than six decades Clark Terry was a musician admired by his peers and honored by his public. Terry was known for several impressive gimmicks: playing his trumpet upside down; playing jazz phrases on just his mouthpiece; playing the flugelhorn and trumpet at the same time. But it was not these entertaining tricks that distinguished Terry. Though humor was never far away when Terry played, he brought to his craft a package of skills and a maturity that allowed him to share his wonderful gifts with colleagues, listeners, and aspiring musicians.

Born into poor circumstances in St. Louis, Missouri December 14, 1920, Terry constructed his first trumpet out of a piece of garden hose, a funnel, and a cut-off piece of pipe for the mouthpiece. As Terry told Down Beat 's Mitchell Seidel, "the neighbors got sick of me blowing that horrendous noise on that gadget, so they chipped in and collected the $12.50 and bought me a trumpet from a pawn shop." While attending Vachon High School, he would rehearse with Ernie Wilkins, later to become one of Count Basie's principal arrangers and a member of his sax section. Terry played in a local drum and bugle corps before moving in with an older sister, where he helped pay the bills by hauling ashes. At about the same time he realized that his childhood dream of becoming a boxer did not mesh with the stronger desire to play the trumpet.

Worked His Way Up

"I always enjoyed practicing," he told Larry Birnbaum of Down Beat . "A lot of kids like to swim and roller skate, but I found that practicing was fun for me. Later, in the navy, I used to practice out of a clarinet book, because I always wanted to play fast passages, and I noticed that the clarinet books had faster things to play." Terry was determined to dispel the prevalent myth of his youth that the ability to read and play with technical precision interfered with the jazz feel. His practicing led to good things. After high school he played with a group called Dollar Bill and Small Change; he traveled with the Rueben & Cherry Carnival; he played for blues singer Ida Cox's "Darktown Scandals;" he worked with pianist/leader Fate Marable who worked the Mississippi River on riverboats.

In 1942 he began a three-year stint in the United States Navy, playing with the elite band at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago under the leadership of alto saxophonist Willie Smith. Among his bandmates there were Wilkins and trumpeter Gerald Wilson, who was later to become the leader himself of several notable bands. After leaving the Navy, Terry spent a few months with Lionel Hampton's band, then returned to St. Louis for a tour with George Hudson at the Club Plantation. The band earned gigs and praises in New York, but after 18 months, the trumpeter moved to California where he played with the Charlie Barnet band for nearly a year. While on the coast he played with singer/saxophonist Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, with whom he made his first commercial recordings. He also played for a while with reedman Charlie Ventura.

Played with Royalty

In 1948, Terry joined the legendary Count Basie orchestra. Terry joined the trumpet section of the big band, but when economic stress struck, Basie was forced to reduce to a much smaller unit, usually an octet. The trumpeter returned for a while when Basie was able to reinstate the full band, which he led until his death. Terry convinced Basie to hire Wilkins as a reedman, but more importantly for his contributions to the band's songbook. Wilkins arranged such hits as the Joe Williams vocal showcase, "Everyday I Have the Blues" As Terry said in Jazz Spoken Here , "Basie taught us to slow down and play a note and use the space. Use the rhythm section. All that space in between is still a part of your solo. So Basie was very, very influential to me."

Jazz pioneer Duke Ellington heard Terry play with Basie in 1951, and decided he wanted Terry's sound in his band, but did not want to appear to be stealing from Basie's band. Terry feigned illness, as he explained to Birnbaum; "Duke said he would put me on salary, and that I should go home to St. Louis and wait until the band came through, and I would just happen to join them there. So I gave my notice to Basie--he took back the raise he had just given me--and I went to St. Louis and joined Duke." Terry often refers to his nearly nine-year stay with Duke as "attending the University of Ellingtonia," and the Basie experience as "prep school for acceptance"into that university. Ellington incorporated Terry's unique voice into his sonic palette just as he had with other stars, like saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney, trumpeters Cootie Williams and Bubber Miley, and trombonists Lawrence Brown and "Tricky Sam" Nanton. Terry also did some writing and arranging for Ellington.

Broke Color Barrier

Upon leaving Ellington in 1959, Terry joined Quincy Jones' orchestra to play Harold Arlen's blues opera, Free and Easy . Its lukewarm reception actually led to Terry being hired by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in March of 1960. In a 1995 JazzTimes cover story celebrating Terry's 75th birthday, he told Bob Blumenthal how this came about. The Urban League had inquired of NBC why they had so few black employees, only to be told that there were no black people qualified to play music on television. The League sent out questionnaires seeking musicians who could "play studio music, read music, play in a section, play first trumpet, solo.... My name happened to come up on all the questionnaires," related Terry. The folding of "Free and Easy" allowed the trumpeter to accept NBC's offer.

Soon he became a fixture in the "Tonight Show" band, with which he was often featured in the "stump the band" segment, sometimes performing what had become somewhat of a trademark, his "Mumbles" act. Describing this act in Jazz Lives , Gene Lees wrote, "[Terry] is, as well, the most inventively humorous scat singer I've ever heard. His "lyrics" tread to the edge of the salacious, then decay into the incomprehensible. This practice has earned him the nickname Mumbles." While at NBC, Terry maintained a breakneck pace that included a regular, daily shift of commercial shows for both radio and television as well as the "Tonight Show." Concurrently he co-led a quintet with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer at the Half Note club, which often ended at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., sometimes followed by an 8:00 a.m. call at the studio. Gradually, however, network musical staffs decreased drastically.

When the "Tonight Show" moved to California in 1972, leader/trumpeter Doc Severinson offered Terry a chance to move with it, but he decided to remain in New York. He formed his Big B-A-D Band , staffed mostly by younger players and blessed by the arrangements of colleagues Ernie Wilkins, Frank Wess, Frank Foster, Phil Woods and others. The band recorded a live concert at Carnegie Hall and toured Europe, proving musically successful but a drain financially. Beginning in 1972, Terry joined promoter Norman Granz for a stint with the Jazz at the Philharmonic, as usual maintaining a broad schedule of free-lancing, which later included a series of tours to foreign countries as a musical ambassador under the auspices of the Department of State.

Professor Terry

While at NBC, Terry began an activity that has become a major focus of his efforts for more than two decades when he and other members of Severinson's band were invited to visit local schools. As Terry related to Blumenthal, "The jazz education scene was just taking off, it was very much in its infancy. It grew, and I just stuck with it. It's one of the most enjoyable things I do." His jazz education efforts included: the formation of the Harlem Youth Band; countless appearances at high schools and colleges throughout the country; regular summer camps for youth; and the establishment of the Clark Terry Institute of Jazz Studies at Tiekyo University near Sioux City, Iowa.

Among those he has mentored are the Marsalis brothers, trumpet sensation Wynton, and saxophonist Branford, who eventually succeeded Severinson as the leader of the Tonight Show band. In 1997 Terry was selected, along with other outstanding clinicians, to participate in JazzFest USA, an educational festival in Orlando, Florida, presented by Down Beat, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, and Universal Studios.

Introduced and Designed Flugelhorn

Most trumpeters credit Terry for re-introducing the flugelhorn to jazz. The larger-bored, softer-sounding horn had virtually disappeared until, as Terry told Blumenthal, "I got in contact with Keith Eckert, who was technical advisor for Selmer Brass, and we developed the first flugelhorn that Selmer put out in this country." Flugelhorns became a common sight on jazz bandstands and Olds produced the "CT" model, made to the specifications of Clark Terry. Terry was also partly responsible for trumpeters earning "doubling" pay when required to play both horns, just as almost all reed players receive if they play more than one instrument.

Though the flugelhorn requires more breath to fill it, Terry was as agile with it as he is with his trumpet. A master of triple-tonguing, he also utilized circular breathing, which allows one to play seemingly endless phrases without pausing to take a normal breath. Terry's major influence was Louis Armstrong. In his 1988 album Portraits , Terry honors other trumpeters he admires: Bunny Berigan, Roy Eldridge, Miles Davis, Harry Edison, and Harry James.

by Robert Dupuis

Clark Terry's Career

Made first "trumpet"out of crude materials; played with "Dollar Bill and Small Change," Rueben & Cherry Carnival, blues singer Ida Cox's "Darktown Scandals" show, and Fate Marable; 1942-45 played with U.S. Navy band at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, IL; played with Lionel Hampton, George Hudson, Charlie Barnet, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Charlie Ventura; joined Count Basie's big band and smaller combo, 1948-51; joined Duke Ellington orchestra, 1951-59; NBC staff musician, including "Tonight Show," 1960-1972; co-led combo with trombonist Bob Brookmeyer; formed big band, 1973; taught as clinician in high schools and colleges throughout the country; served as State Department jazz ambassador.

Clark Terry's Awards

Down Beat"Talent Deserving Wider Recognition," 1963; Beacon in Jazz Award, New School of Music, New York, 1991.

Famous Works

Further Reading

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 5 years ago

I am not being picky.....but Clark Terry's first wife ( Pauline )and Clark Terry were never divorced. Sadly enough she died from cancer,leaving Mr. Terry a widower until he married his current wife. Just a note to correct misinformation, which is rampant these days. Clark Terry is a great American, and his music will love on forever.

over 8 years ago

My father also had some pony rides with this outfit in the 1930s.Can you please give some info?

over 8 years ago

My father had pony rides with Rubin and Cherry in the 1930s. Ialso would like some info about the rides.

over 8 years ago

DOES MR. TERRY REMEMBER A ALBERT "SHORTY" CAMPBELL AND HIS WIFE RACHEAL CAMPBELL?? THEY WE IN THE RUBEN AND CHERRY EXPOSITION IN THE EARLY 1930'S?? A RESPONSE IS DESPERATLY NEEDED EVEN IF HE DOES NOT KNOW OR REMEMBER THEM. THANK YOU KELLY HOPKINS

about 9 years ago

i'm looking for any info on the rubin and cherry exposition in the 1930's. my grandparents were in charge od the pony rides but may have done other things. they were albert and racheal campbell.if i ever get any info i will be happy yo share with others.