Happy Birthday, Clark Terry!


Clark Terry, born December 14, 1920, is one of the living legends of jazz, having mentored the late Miles Davis, and having appeared on at least 905 known recording sessions. Terry himself was mentored by Louis Armstrong, and has performed frequently with fellow jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter. Today, Terry turns 92 years old.


Clark Terry with Jimmy Heath and friends





Clark Terry's professional career began in the early 1940s, playing in local clubs in St. Louis Missouri, where he says, "Rent was cheap, the food was good and the ladies were beautiful."


By the late 1940s, Terry was an integral member of Duke Ellington's orchestra, playing the trumpet and gaining attention for his ability to play a wide range of styles, from swing to bebop.


On meeting the young Miles Dewey Davis for the first time, whom Clark Terry mentored informally while they were both in St. Louis: "He was thin enough to ride a rooster [laughs]... but he played beautifully."

After playing with Duke Ellington for a few years, Clark gained international recognition when he became NBC's first African American staff musician ever. For ten years, Terry played on The Tonight Show as a member of the Tonight Show Band, first under band leader Skitch Henderson, and then Doc Severinsen.



It was at The Tonight Show that Terry became known his "mumbling" style of scat singing, especially popularized when his song "Mumbles" became a hit.


By the 1970s, Clark Terry began concentrating on the flugelhorn, for which he is particularly known. Before Terry, the flugelhorn was not a popular jazz instrument.

Terry's notable performance spaces have included Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, and Lincoln Center. In 199. Terry recorded "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. In 2001, he performed with the same organization in a tribute to Duke Ellington.



Terry is also known for being a fervent teacher and supporter of young musicians and has organized several jazz camps and festivals to help beginning musicians hone their craft.

Clark composed more than two hundred jazz songs and performed for seven U.S. Presidents. He is the recipient of hundreds of awards and honors in jazz, including his 2010 Grammy for Lifetime Achievement.


Bonus material: For studious jazz lovers, a master class by Clark Terry

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Sunday, 14 December 2014
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