Clark Terry, the legendary trumpeter who played with everyone from Count Basie and Duke Ellington to Thelonious Monk to Oscar Peterson to McCoy Tyner to Cecil Taylor to Elvin Jones to Quincy Jones to the Tonight Show band, died Saturday, surrounded by family, students and friends.
Terry, known by the nickname CT in jazz circles, was 94, and had been in ill health for some years, living with diabetes and having lost his eyesight and some of his limbs. He had entered hospice care a little more than a week ago.
The St. Louis, Missouri-born Terry was tremendously influential over his life in music. Trumpeters Quincy Jones and Miles Davis were mentored by Terry early in their careers, and most recently, Terry’s relationship with the young pianist Justin Kauflin was the of the moving documentary Keep On Keepin’ On, which had been spoken of as a potential Oscar contender this year, but was nominated.
One of the most moving pieces of jazz-related writing that I’ve read recently isWynton Marsalis’ account of how he and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra paid a visit last December to the hospitalized Terry. If you want to know what the jazz tradition is, you can’t do any better than to read Marsalis’ piece of writing. Here’s just its conclusion:
“We recognized that he also did that for many thousands of other musicians throughout his career. He lived as a jazzman, full of soul and sophistication, sass, grit and mother wit, and he made us want to become real jazz musicians.
“We talked about how good it felt that many of us were moved to tears in his presence. And we weren’t emotional because he was blind and bedridden, or because he was having trouble hearing, had lost some of his limbs and was in a hospital. He’s 94! We were full of emotion because his presence reminded us of how much of himself he had given to the world, this country, our music, our instrument and each of us individually. And it hit us. All the gigs, recordings, lessons, bands, students, all state jazz orchestras, master classes, TV shows, world beating concerts with Basie and Ellington, his own groups, jam sessions – and all of it at the absolute highest level of engagement- was laying in the bed before us. And we wanted him to be proud and feel the love we felt for him. It was palpable. After we left I said, “Man, CT always had a way of lifting you up.” Ted [Nash] countered and said, “HAD a way? He still IS that way. It was there today.
“Yeah. He blessed us.”
Here are a few videos to convey Terry’s greatness.
Below, Terry plays with the Oscar Peterson Trio in Finland in 1965. He enters to Mack The Knife around the five-minute mark.
Here’s Terry on the Tonight Show, circa 1980:
This is Terry doing his blues / scatting feature Mumbles with no less than Aretha Franklin and Herbie Hancock:
Here’s Terry giving a 2004 masterclass:
And here’s the trailer for Keep On Keepin’ On:
This film, by the way, will be screened at Docfest in Belleville, Ontario, next Friday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. at The Empire Theatre, and Kauflin will be there for a Q & A session and a short concert.
Here’s a smattering of the outpouring of affection for Terry from his jazz descendants on Twitter.
Rest in peace, Clark Terry.