Jazz musician Clark Terry, former Queens resident, left his mark

By Madina Toure

Jazz giant and educator Clark Terry, a renowned trumpeter and flugelhorn playerwho lived in Queens and worked with numerous musicians in the borough, died over the weekend at the age of 94 in Pine Bluff, Ark.

His wife, Gwen Terry, announced his death on his Facebook page Feb. 22, saying that he died peacefully surrounded by his family, students and friends.

“We will miss him every minute of every day, but he will live on through the beautiful music and positivity that he gave to the world,” Gwen Terry wrote on his Facebook page. “Clark will live in our hearts forever.”

Terry was born in St. Louis, Mo., in 1920. He attended Vashon High School in St. Louis. He joined his high school band as a valve trombonist and at age 15, he became part of the Town Powell American Legion Post Band. After high school, he joined the Reuben and Cherry carnival band and later teamed up with the Darktown Scandal, blues singer and vaudeville performer Ida Cox’s band.

From 1942 to 1945, he played with the U.S. Navy band at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center near Chicago. He subsequently enjoyed stints in the bands of George Hudson, Charlie Barnet, Charlie Ventura, Eddie Vinson and Count Basie.

Both Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, whom he worked with from 1959 to 1960, have named him as a key influence during the early stages of their careers. In 1951, he joined Duke Ellington’s orchestra where he stayed for eight years as a featured soloist.

After he left Ellington’s band, he joined the “Tonight Show” band, making him one of the first black Americans employed in a network TV band. He played with the band from 1960 to 1972, under Skitch Henderson and Doc Severinsen. His recording, “Mumbles,” in which he mumbles a scat vocal solo, became popular during this time.

In 1991, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters fellowship, the country’s highest honor in jazz.

He was a resident of Bayside and also resided in the Dorie Miller Houses, a co-op apartment complex in Corona. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He was also the subject of the 2014 documentary “Keep on Keepin’” about his work mentoring Justin Kauflin, a blind pianist.

Jazz musician Jimmy Heath, 88, said he had known Terry since 1960 when Terry performed on his second album, “Really Big!,” at the time.

“He told me that he liked my music so much that he performed on my recordings for union scale,” Heath said. “I didn’t have to pay him extra and that was a shock to me because he was already a great jazz artist.”

He said Terry introduced him to the Dorie Miller Houses, where has been living since 1964, and that he owes much of his success and career to him.

“He was one of the nicest human beings,” he added. “I owed him a lot in my career because Clark got me here … he also got me playing on jazz cruises and I owe him a lot for my success and my life.”

Clyde Bullard, a jazz producer for Flushing Town Hall, said he produced Terry several times at Flushing Town Hall with theNEA Jazz Masters. He referred to Terry as a “melodic giant” admired by young instrumentalists from Queens College and NYU, for example.

“Clark would take his trumpet out and explain different ways to think in terms of playing improvised solos,” Bullard said. “He was very sharing in terms of his knowledge because he was very competent. He was a giant, very well temperamented musician.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.