Monday, December 14, 2009


Clark Terry was born December 14, 1920 in St. Louis Missouri. His first trumpet was made of garden house and His start in jazz came when he purchased his first trumpet from a pawn shop for $12.50. (Helgesen) He began his more formal career when he attended Vashon High School. He was a member of both the local drums and bugle corps. After high school he traveled across the Midwest with several bands. In 1942 he joined the Navy and was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago. (Helegsen)

In 1945 he was discharged from the Navy and for the rest of the decade played in Charlie Barnet and Count Basie’ bands. During the fifties he gained much fame when he played with Duke Ellington. During the fifties Terry began releasing his own albums he made 10 albums in all during the fifties with such hits as Clark Terry, Swahili, Serenade to a Bus Seat, Duke with a Difference, Clark Terry Quartet with Thelonious Monk, In Orbit, and Top and Bottom Brass. Terry also traveled to Europe with Harold Arlen’s Free & Easy Show. Though the show was not a success it spread Terry’s name further around the world.

In the 60’s Terry became the first African American staff musician at NBC. He had many appearances on the “Tonight Show”. His hit “Mumbles” gained much of its popularity from audiences seeing him play it on the “Tonight Show”. His unique mumbling scat style was a major draw for audiences. It was the first time that any one had seen the scat style being used with jazz music. Terry told the story of how he got to be the first black musician to work in the NBC Orchestra during a January 1, 2005 interview on NPR. He said that the Urban League was researching why there was not more black representation on television. The Urban League went to NBC and asked them why they did not have any black people playing on television. Their answer was that there were not any black people that could play on television. The Urban League asked people who they knew that could play on television and Clark Terry’s name came up from everyone they asked.

After the “Tonight Show” Terry’s career has continued to grow, “from the 70's through the 90's, Clark performed at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, and Lincoln Center, toured with the Newport Jazz All Stars and Jazz at the Philharmonic, and he was featured with Skitch Henderson's New York Pops Orchestra. Since 2000, he hosts Clark Terry Jazz Festivals on land and sea, and his own jazz camps.” (The Official Bio)

Throughout Terry’s career he played with many great musicians. He had great relationships will everyone in the jazz community. As seen in a biography written by Bill Crow in which he visits Terry at his home in New Jersey.

“On another tour, Granz had asked Clark 'not bring that funny horn,' meaning Clark's flugelhorn. Clark obliged, playing only trumpet on those concerts. At the end of the tour, when Clark went into Granz's office to get what he described as a generous paycheck, Granz said, "...and thanks for not bringing that funny horn," and slipped an extra banknote into Clark's hand. As Granz walked away, Clark peeped at the denomination and was surprised to see it was a thousand dollar bill. Just then NormanClark said, "I knew you'd made a mistake. This is a thousand!" Granz nodded. "'I did make a mistake. I meant to give you two." And he handed Clark returned and said, "What did I give you?" another one.” (Crow). Terry’s career still continues to this day with his contributions to the education of new jazz musicians.
Clark Terry does "Mumbles"

Photo courtesy of....

Works Cited
Crow, Bill. Clark Terry. 15 April. 2007
Helgesen, Jeff. Biography. Clark Terry. 25 May. 2006. 28 Feb. 2007. <>
Reference - “The Official Bio.” Clark Terry. Jazz Corner. 28 Feb. 2007.

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