Today, we wish a most happy birthday to one of the greatest St. Louis jazz musicians ever, trumpeter Clark Terry, who turns 94 tomorrow.
A recipient of honors and awards too numerous to count, and enshrined in halls of fame ranging from that of Vashon High School in St. Louis to Jazz at Lincoln Center's Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame in NYC, Terry has had a prolific career stretching from the 1940s into the 21st century, encompassing hundreds of recordings and many thousands of performances.
Among his accomplishments, he's often noted as one of the few musicians to have played in the orchestras of both Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and in the early 1960s he broke the color barrier in network television by becoming the first African-American member of the band on NBC's Tonight Show.
Later, Terry became known as a jazz educator and ambassador, teaching master classes at colleges and universities around the world and serving as a personal mentor to particularly promising musicians, including such current notables as singer Dianne Reeves and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. He continued to travel and perform throughout his seventies and eighties until just a few years ago, when a series of health problems finally forced him to retire from the road to his home in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Even after losing his eyesight and both legs to diabetes, Terry has continued to teach from a hospital bed via telephone and Skype. And though his body may be frail, his spirit remains indomitable, as shown in the recent documentary film Keep On Keepin' On, which follows the story of Terry's relationship with a talented young pianist named Justin Kauflin.
Of course, this is just the barest outline of his storied career. There's so much more to say about Clark Terry - enough to fill a book, and in fact, he's written one himself, which you should read if you have any interest in jazz (or the history of St. Louis, for that matter) - that it's futile to even try to fit it all into one simple blog post. So let's get the birthday party started, and move on to the videos.
We begin with three songs recorded more than 50 years ago in Europe by a band led by Terry and saxophonist Phil Woods. As the story goes, the group originally was assembled by Quincy Jones as the backing band for a touring musical show that went bankrupt, leaving the performers stranded and forcing them to line up a series of gigs to earn enough money to return home to the USA.
In addition to Terry on trumpet and fluegelhorn and Woods on alto sax, the group included Sahib Shihab (baritone sax), Quentin Jackson (trombone), Patty Bown (piano), Buddy Catlett (bass), Joe Harris (drums). You can hear them in the first clip playing "Undecided," recorded in late 1969 in the Netherlands, and after the jump, "Steeplechase" and "A Night in Tunisia," which are from a Paris gig early in 1960.
After that, there's a short set featuring Terry with pianist Oscar Peterson, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Ed Thigpen, recorded in 1965 in Finland. The foursome had made a well-regarded and commercially successful recording together the previous year, Oscar Peterson Trio + One, and this show draws on some of the songs they recorded for that album.
One of those tunes was what some consider to be the definitive version of Terry's signature tune, the mush-mouthed, scat-singing jump blues "Mumbles," and a brief but spirited version of that crowd-pleaser finishes the set.
After that, you can hear four songs featuring Terry's Big Bad Band, recorded in 1974 in England, with a lineup including one of Terry's oldest musical friends from St. Louis, trombonist Jimmy Wilkins, as well as iconic musicians such as saxophonist Jimmy Heath, drummer Grady Tate, and pianist Horace Parlan.
They start off with "Et Toi," followed by "Take The A Train," "Rock Skipping (at the Blue Note)," and "On The Trail" (a jazz arrangement of material adapted from Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite).
We finish up with three more recent clips that pay tribute to Terry in different ways. Today's fifth video is a complete show by one of his proteges, Dianne Reeves, that was presented as a tribute to the trumpeter back in 2000 in Bern, Germany. After an improvised vocal by Reeves telling the story of how they met, Terry appears on stage and plays for a bit, and the warmth between them is obvious. (Though he stays for just a couple of numbers, Reeves and band are in typically good form for the rest of the set as well.)
Next, there's an interview with Alan Hicks, director of Keep On Keepin' On, in which he talks about the film and his relationship with Terry - he started as a student, then was hired to play drums on some of the trumpeter's gigs - and shows a couple of short excerpts.
Last but not least, we hear more about Keep On Keepin' On, this time from Justin Kauflin and Quincy Jones, a longtime friend of Terry's and the film's executive producer. Though the film has already screened in St. Louis back in October, it has made the first cut for Academy Award eligibility and no doubt will be available on home video at some point in the not-too-distant future.
You can read more of StLJN's past coverage of Clark Terry here, and you can see the rest of today's videos after the jump.