His career spanned over seven decades, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, and he entered hospice care about a week ago. His wife Gwen wrote on his Facebook page: “He left us peacefully, surrounded by his family, students and friends.”
Two of my favorite Clark Terry albums are very different affairs and show his versatility and style: the 1966 recording “Spanish Rice” which was arranged and conducted by Chico O’Farrill is a Latin Jazz gem. In 1999, Terry recorded an album with a dozen or so different pianists at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan. This is what the pianists had to say about him: Geri Allen: “He is also the direct link between Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis“. Monty Alexander: “With each wickedly swinging, slickly, or smoothly phrased beautiful note that comes from the horn of ex-boxer Clark Terry, there is but one more opportunity for all willing beings to experience attitude uplift as well as a sense of wonderment.”
Kenny Barron: “His depth, feeling and swing are incredible”. Barry Harris: “One of the last giants connecting us to the golden era of Jazz”. John Lewis: “Clark Terry is not only one of our great virtuoso and innovative trumpet artists, but also one of our most entertaining and witty storytellers”.
Terry was also known as “Mumbles” since he showed the ability to mumble and scat sing on an Oscar Peterson record from 1964 and then made this technique famous and his very own on the “Tonight Show”.
He has worked with everyone, from Lionel Hampton to Quincy Jones, from Gerry Mulligan to Phil Woods. I remember one evening during the Montreux Jazz Festival in the mid 90s where I walked with him from his hotel to the venue. During that short walk, he could tell so many very detailed stories from years past, stories about who he had worked with, and he also had a very vivid position on the contemporary scene. It was a fantastic lesson. His humor was also well cherished. Look at the cover of “Spanish Rice”. Priceless. Clark Terry celebrated his 94th birthday last December.
I would also like to recommend “The Autobiography of Clark Terry” written with Gwen Terry, with a preface by Quincy Jones and a foreword by Bill Cosby.