Clark Terry: Heart…Soul…Class

Making the simple complicated is commonplace.
Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
Charles Mingus

To me, Clark Terry is the Johnny Hodges of the trumpet, one of the few brass players of whom it may be truly said that he imposes his will over the trumpet–and not the other way around.

cterryAnd while that may be a cunningly crafted illusion, Clark has always had a way of making the trumpet and flugelhorn do his bidding, with an ease of execution, a deep feeling for the blues, burnished tone, sophisticated harmonic sensibility and a degree of rhythmic-melodic fluency that are as warm, elegant and ebullient as the master himself.

I had the opportunity to spend a half an hour on the phone with Clark Terry back in 2000 upon the release of fourteen lovingly recorded encounters with a who’s who of jazz piano players for the Chesky label, entitled ONE ON ONE, appropriately enough—a joyfully engaging recital.

clarkterry as a young dude

And a most gratifying experience, because Clark Terry is among the classiest, most nurturing, affable, engaging souls I’ve ever met: a truly loving, gentle man, and not only a master performer, instrumentalist and humorist, but a direct conduit to the entire history of jazz, much of which he experienced first hand, with a great teacher’s gift for distilling things into deceptively simple principles, making the medicine go down easy—and imparting the unshakeable belief that you can do this, too.

Clark Terry in WheelchairAt several points in our conversation he elucidated some musical point by vibrating away with naught but his embouchure, buzzing away like a Bach Cello Suite by bringing a solitary forefinger to his lips.

Did I say buzzing? When I affix a forefinger to my own lips, on a good day I might elicit some vague semblance of sonic flatulence.

When Clark got to buzzing, there were notes, overtones, even chords—with nothing but his chops!

We are talking tone, people.  Each and every note an embryonic entity encapsulated in the luminous amniotic fluid of soul.

(In case you think I’m jiving, check out Clark’s amazing blues solo on nothing but his mouthpiece from a video clip of a Jazz at The Philharmonic performance with T-Bone Walker in the UK in 1966. Damn!)

I was flabbergasted. He made the basic principles of the trumpet come alive for me as no one ever had; in fact, being in his presence was so inspiring, I thought, “Hey, I can do that.”

Clark Terry and Snoop Dog

Clark Terry and Snoop Dog

Well, not really.

Still, after getting off the phone with Clark (way sooner than I wanted, but even back then his health was beginning to go south, and I didn’t want to wear his ass out), the first thing that popped into my head was that “If I am ever privileged enough to get more face time with this man, I am going to damn sure know more about the horn than I presently do.”

Clark Terry3In due course, my dear friend, master trumpeter Ron Miles, gifted me a 1911 Holton Cornet. I practiced just enough to glean some rudimentary insights into the overtone series and how you make a sound, more or less–which further enhanced my respect for trumpeters in general and Clark Terry in particular.

I never did get to speak with Mister Terry again, but our brief encounter is indelibly etched in my recombinant DNA.

Clark Terry AutobiographyRADIO FREE CHIP could expound at great length about all of the wonderful music he has made, musicians he has mentored and lives he has touched, but what follows is such an in-depth discussion about technical and musical aspects of the trumpet, that readers would be better served by purchasing a copy of CLARK: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CLARK TERRY, and thus allow Brother Terry to do the talking…instead of me.

If it seems as though Clark Terry has always been here for us, well, this beloved American icon was born way back on December 14, 1920, the seventh of eleven children. And in approaching his 93rd birthday, Clark Terry remains as engaged as he has the strength to be, whether as a teacher, or in a project linking the jazz aesthetic to that of hip hop with former student Quincy Jones and rapper Snoop Dog.

But these days he is largely bed-ridden, and while his spirit remains indomitable, his body, alas, is not, and the monthly expenses for 24/7 home-care attendants, above and beyond what Medicare covers, come to over $6000.00.


Feel free to follow this link to Make A Donation for Clark Terry’s Medical Expenses or drop Clark and Gwen Terry a note–along with a check.

Here is their home address:

Clark Terry
4720 South Beech Street
Pine Bluff, AR 71603

Your love will lift him and the money will gift them…


I met you at Max Roach’s birthday party a few years ago on the Upper East Side. You and Sweets [Edison] sashayed in wearing a couple of full length fur coats, looking like a couple of collegians. I was sure you were going to bust out a couple of ukuleles and break into a chorus of Boola-Boola [laughter]. ONE ON ONE is sure a splendid recital, sir.

Oh, thank you. How do you like the concept, where I have a different piece of music for each of those pianists to use?

I think the concept affords you a wonderful range of repertoire.

Covers a lot of history.

Showcases the breadth and depth of your range. How much flugelhorn did you play?

I played them both at the same time. I played trumpet and flugelhorn on practically every track.

Well, that clears that up. And all that time I was thinking, “Damn, Clark sure gets a dark sound from the trumpet [laughter].”  Were you sending a psychic message to Papa Jo Jones on “Swinging the Blues?”

Yeah, how about that? [Clark puts his forefinger to his lips, and uses his chops to mimic the iconic sound of Papa Jo’s hi-hats]. He was the master of that. Not too many people can do that right…yet!

What is it that makes one particular style of horn a jazz instrument as opposed to a symphonic horn?

For the trumpet?

Yeah, like a Martin Committee.

Yeah, I have a Martin. In fact I’m using a Martin Committee now. They gave it to me as a 75th birthday gift at the Jazz Times Convention. Miles used to have them dip them in all those dyes: blue, black, green, yellow, white, purple…Miles would pick up the phone and tell the people [growls] “Green!” and they’d make him a green one. Tell ‘em “Blue” and next week he had a blue horn.

Clark Terry4
Had one to match all of his outfits [laughter]. Wallace Roney was playing a black one that Miles was using. I played it once. A nice horn, and it’s just like the old Committee Martins which I had for years. So he said, “I’m going to get ‘em to give you one,” and I said “Yeah, sure.”

And sure ‘nuff, two-three years later they did give me one on my 75th birthday. And so I’ve been using that religiously since then. But as far as comparing them with classical type instruments, they’re basically the same. It depends on what gets the best results for you. Wynton Marsalis all of a sudden feels that the mouthpiece should be continued through the rest of the horn and not detach.

Those custom-made Monette horns with the integral mouthpiece. My buddy Ron Miles plays one.


Clark With His Flugelhorn

It wasn’t invented that way, but as the old saying goes, “Different strokes for different folks.”

So some people like heavy horns for classical or jazz. Some like light, quick horns. Some like plated; some feel that the silver horns are more conducive to playing brassy-type sounds; other folks feel that gold gives the tone a darker character.

I don’t do a heck of a lot of lead playing anymore; in my younger days that’s what made me choose the Selmer flugelhorn, because it sort of made me go back to the days when the Jimmie Lunceford Band used to play flugelhorns—all of the guys in the section from time to time–just to change the mood. One of those flugelhorns is still around. Sy Oliver had one, and he passed.

And that reminded me of going back to get this type of sound. So much so, I used to put felt hats over the bell of my trumpet to get close to that sound. And we had a chance to do it. We worked with Keith Ecker, who was a technical adviser for brass to Selmer, and we put together a horn in his basement while drinking his home-made red wine [laughter]; put it together and sent it off to Paris, where they checked it out mechanically and made sure it was okay, then they gold-plated it and sent it back to me.

And in November, 1967, they sent it to my friend in Chicago, Syke Smith. And at that time we were recording with Billy Taylor, doing a thing of his called TAYLOR MADE JAZZ, with all of the members of the Ellington band. And Sykes brought it down to the studio and opened the box, and there was this shiny, beautiful flugelhorn. 

Billy Taylor and Clark Terry

Clark Terry [with Billy Taylor at the Piano]

I played a few notes on it, and Billy said, “Why don’t you put that on the date?”

And I said, “I intend to.”

So I played it on the date and went to club that night and he wrote a piece for me on the flugelhorn–the first piece he ever wrote for me—called “Julieflip on the Flugelhorn.”

Is it a different kind of tubing than the trumpet?

The flugelhorn is actually in the cornet family in that it’s conical shaped from the receiver straight through to the bell; gradually gets bigger all the way through the bore both ways. Whereas the trumpet goes one bore until it passes through the valves, and then it flanges at the beginning of the bell.

So that would account for the brilliance of the trumpet and the mellowness of the flugelhorn.

Absolutely. Right.

Is there any difference in terms of blowing into it in terms of air pressure.

Oh, yes. It has been said that they’re illegitimate scales, so you have to be very, very tender with them to achieve…you can’t blast ‘em; you can’t over-blow them—you can’t be too cruel with them [laughter]. You have to be very careful, because they can very easily be played out of tune if you don’t know how to use the tuning slide.

Ron Miles explained that on the cornet, it could be a little sharp in the bass, and a little flat in the upper register, so that you have to compensate as you’re going along.

Well, it took us years to really do some serious research on the flugelhorn, to figure out that you need to tune each pump instead of in one spot with the tuning slide. And the tuning slide on the flugelhorn is in the leader pipe; as you enter the mouthpiece into the receiver, then after you’ve made your regular tuning, you tune each pump, each slide, individually, and pull them into a position where it’s more conducive to make the notes that you want using that combination of valves…in tune.

So the minute you see a flugelhorn player, unless he’s been doing it for a long time, playing with all of these pumps—middle valve, first valve and third valve—not being altered somewhat or tuned, you can almost bet he’s going to play out of tune. It’s sort of like a violin or a trombone. Each little position may be marked—first, second, third, fourth—and if you go to the second position and it’s a little bit flat, you’re going to pull up a little bit with your lip or your slide; the violin, the same thing. What might be an A on the violin for one player might be a wee bit sharp or flat for another player. So they have to adjust according to their articulation, manipulation, and their ear. So there are a whole lot of things that go into producing one tone [laughter], on the flugelhorn, the violin–any instrument.

But even on the trumpet, Clark, you get such a dark, creamy sound: I always refer to you as the Johnny Hodges of the trumpet. When you were talking before about the relative intonation in relation to somebody’s note-of-A, the way Hodges would play, he’d slide up and down to the point where he was almost outside of the scale, but it always sounded in tune, and it was so…what do they call it in opera? Bel Canto?

Well, that’s one of the things where we have a lot of difficulty teaching students: to find the center pitch of their tone—the center of their tone—and to be able to maneuver. This is one of the lessons that we were taught by the old timers that are not in the books. They used to say, “Son, you’ve got to go back home and learn how to bend that note.”  Which means coming from below [sings upward bend] and find that pitch before you vibrate or go down to it [sings a downward slide]—but maintaining the center of the pitch in your mind. It’s not an easy thing. It’s not nearly as easy as some people think it is.

Clark-Terry as a Young DudeI remember hearing this black mezzo-soprano in a Verdi opera, and she came out with this big, pure voice, and nailed every note, yet the audience was kind of underwhelmed. And then this woman came out in the role of a gypsy woman; to my ears, her vibrato was all over the place. And the people went nuts, so I figured, “Well, I guess I’m not conversant in the tradition.”  It was not very pleasing…to me, anyhow.

Well, look at Johnny Hodges. He could actually milk it, but he would always get to that pitch before he vibrated or changed.

All of you guys with Ellington could do that. You and Johnny…and Barney Bigard in particular used to kill me with all of his bends on the clarinet. Getting back to your gear, have you used the same mouthpiece for years, or do you tend to fotz around?

Yeah I’ve played the same one for quite a long time. I got the mouthpiece I’m using now years ago. And when Giardanelli started making mouthpieces he looked at mine and decided he would make a bunch of these with the the same sort of dimensions as some of the already standardized mouthpieces.

And at the same time we were going through a thing here in New York, where most of the brass players had discovered that in the orchestra, all of the French horn mouthpieces were V-shaped, straight down, and flat-rimmed. You never saw a French horn mouthpiece with a bowl or cup. They all go straight down. So we came to the conclusion that this is far more conducive to what we were after than any other configuration. It’s good for longevity; it’s good for intonation; it’s good for range; it’s good for sound.

So we decided to get into that, and Giardanelli fixed a couple of them up like mine, with a flat rim and a V-shape; and it’s comparable to somewhere between a #3 or a #5 Bach mouthpiece. And it seems to be a mouthpiece that almost any player can use.

So we recommend something similar to that for students who get involved, because it gives you the flexibility and maneuverability to keep a nice range and a good sound. Some guys get on a versatile kick and they want to play higher than anybody, so they have a mouthpiece with a thimble for a cup and a pin-hole for the bore. It lets them play high, but then they can’t make a sound to match up with anybody else in any orchestra or big band.

Some horn players used to tell me how Cat Anderson had a trick mouthpiece. Uh huh–like that explained it. And I’d ask them: “Does he have a trick lip, too [laughter]?”

He had a trick everything [laughter]. A trick neck, a trick attitude–he was a strange cat.

Doc Cheatham told me that Cat would go through a Three-Card Monte game with multiple mouthpieces, where he’d employ one mouthpiece to play the section stuff and match up with everybody, but when it got to his part in the score–where he needed to ascend into that upper register netherworld–he’d kind of palm it and nobody would ever see him put the other mouthpiece in.

Well, he may have done that in his early years, but I used to watch him, because I’d sit next to him in the Ellington band, and I never saw him do that. He reached the point where he could do anything he wanted to do on one mouthpiece. And I don’t think anybody else in the world could make a sound on his mouthpiece, but him. And his lower register was big and his upper register was big—so he had mastered that thing.

A lot of guys can take all sorts of deficiencies and make something positive out of them, like the trumpet player Byron Stribling. He plays all wrong–up under the lip on the soft part of the lip–but he has mastered that fault of his and instead of correcting it, he’s mastered it. And he plays great. He has a big sound and his range is fantastic, so he never bothered about changing the mouthpiece.

Clark Terry-1940'sI had a little friend from London who played almost like Byron, and I couldn’t stand the sight of him [laughter], so I asked him if he would give me two weeks to correct it. And he said okay, but that “My teacher said that it was okay.” And I said, “Well, you tell your teacher…blahblahblah.”

And I had him do what we call the tuck and roll, where you tuck both lips over the top of the teeth and then roll down to that area where you can make a buzz [produces an amazingly musical buzz sound]; when you can make that buzz so that you can control it [makes it dance up and down in identifiable phrases, concluding with a low register descent]; when you reach that point, then you know you’re in the right area–but if you go too far over into the red part [indistinct flapping sound], you can’t make any upper notes.

So it has to be close to the center. 

Clark Terry in 1981Well, he did this for about two weeks without his horn, and then used his mouthpiece.  Then he put it in his horn, and now he plays five notes higher; his tone is bigger; and besides that, he won the honors of the little girl singer in the band [laughter].

When you were making all of those different sounds before with your chops, I was thinking of how you described the French horn mouthpiece, and a lot of their training involves controlling the tone without the valves, going back to the ancient horns.

Sure, that’s exactly the same principle that we use when we play on the bugle [plays long complex phrases with a deep descent into lower register] without valves. As a matter of fact that’s why there are so many good Mexican trumpet players…what do you call them cats, the mariachi? They were taught to use the mouthpiece long before they were allowed to touch their horn. So that’s why you never hear of any of them Spanish or Mexican players having trouble with single, double or triple tongues. They always have excellent articulation. And that’s because they were taught to play the mouthpiece first—master the mouthpiece. Like boxers say, “Kill the head and the body will die [laughter].”

I hung out with Dizzy one afternoon in his basement while he was watching the Clarence Thomas hearings on television. I set up a digital sound system for him and put on a CD I gave him of the delta blues-man Robert Johnson, and listened as Dizzy warmed up on his mouthpiece for close to an hour, and that’s all he did was mouthpiece, playing along with Robert Johnson. And I was struck by the range of different articulations he achieved with just his mouthpiece, and it occurred to me that all of those different tonguing techniques and such–those old-time, home-grown approaches–aren’t really taught much anymore, are they?

No. They really aren’t. There are so many things that are just skipped over in teaching things, and a lot of it needs to be learned.

I like all kinds of music from all generations. I’m not stuck in any one bag, but a lot of horn players these days sound more like classical trumpet players than jazz players in terms of articulation. I mean, in listening to a master player such as Maurice Andre, he gets that brilliant kind of shimmering tone, but obviously absent those vocal inflections that were such a vital part of the early jazz vocabulary.

The reason being, Chip, is because not that many people are conscientious enough to teach kids from whence you come. So they don’t know for the most part about bending a note, finding that center pitch; they don’t know about moaning and what you call flips—things that we learned from the old-timers. Which are not in books: like shakes, fall-offs, rips, doinks, buzzes and things that were concocted by the older players.

Because of the fact that most trumpet players of that period who got involved years ago, they had no teachers; so they saw all of these instruments in the pawn shops which had been ostracized by the classical players, such as the cornet, and things like that. And there wasn’t much call for these types of instruments, so the pawn shops were loaded, and cats saw these shiny instruments in the windows and they were self-taught.

They didn’t know the proper place to place the mouthpiece on their lips: over on the right corner, on the left corner, over towards the upper lip, down towards the lower lip, almost on the cheek—and so they couldn’t produce a proper sound. So as a result, they couldn’t produce a sound that was good enough to fit in a section and play a part with legitimate sounding players. So as a result of that, sometimes their tones would be kind of tinny.

So somehow they had to find a way to make their sounds more acceptable, so they began to do what we now call buzz, which simply means to hum as you produce your sound, which makes your sound bigger [produces a lip tone then adds a moaning sound an octave below, a la Slam Stewart].

Roy Eldridge used to play like that, and [trombonist] Vic Dickenson, even the saxophone players such as Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins—they all used that sound. So buzzing became a very important ingredient. Now not too many legitimate teachers would even want their kids to know that shit. And I think it’s very important that they do know it, as well as the three areas of the tongue that are very, very valuable for producing different sounds: the tip of the tongue which is a flutter; and the back of the throat is called a growl, like a dog; and then way down in the bottom, is the hum.

Clark Terry and Doc Severnsen

Clark Terry and Doc Severinsen

So you’ve got all three of those areas, which along with the manipulation of the plunger—another forgotten instrument—can produce all sorts of wonderful sounds. Like a type of tonguing called the doodle system: a-e-i-o-u, in order to prevent the kids from reiterating the second syllable. The -dle in the word doodles, the last syllables are ghosted; they’re swallowed…D-Dood. So it’s daadle, deedle, diidle, doodle duudle. And if they don’t learn to do that, they’re going to play dato, deto, dito, doto, duto. You want noodle soup, you don’t want noodo soup, because noodo soup don’t taste like noodle soup [laughter].

So these are some of the things that a few of us, some old folks who are still around, like to impart to the kids. And please believe me, it makes for a much better player when they couple that with the legitimate techniques.

Man, oh man, except for one small detail–like how I could never get a single sound out of the trumpet–you sure do make me want to pick up a horn right this instant [laughter]. Still, I reckon I better stick with my guitars and drums. That’s just invaluable information to pass along, Clark. Regarding legitimate techniques versus home-grown solutions, I once heard a story, and I don’t know if it’s apocryphal, about how you took Dizzy to some classical teacher for remedial work.

Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie

Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie

It’s true. About the time Dizzy came through East St. Louis with his big band, the Board Of Education was doing a crackdown on professors who would teach their kids–who really idolized these people–and most of them puffed their cheeks way out like Harry James and Dizzy. So they went to Harry and Dizzy and told them what was happening with the kids, and that all of these young horn players were puffing out their jaw. And after they told Harry, bing, just like that he quit right away, and just played…he was phenomenal, just a phenomenal trumpet player—and he stopped puffing his cheeks and could play the same way he did when he was puffing his cheeks.

And so Dizzy came to St. Louis and asked me to take him down to Joe Gustav, who was a very domineering type of personality, who would scare the hell out of you. “Play something for me.” And Dizzy went…[sings a boppish descending phrase]. So he was walking away when Dizzy played that, and he whirled around and said “Do that again.” And Dizzy did something even more spectacular. So he says, “Play me some eighth notes, and Dizzy says bip-bip-bip-bip. “Faster!” and Dizzy goes bipbip-bipbip-bipbip-bipbip. And each note his jaws would fill out like a bladder. And Gustav says, “How long have you been doing that?” So Birks answered: “Well, I’m sorry G, but I’ve been doing this all my life.” And Gustav said, “Well, you just keep doing it—now get the hell out of here.”

And that’s a fact.

Puffing the cheeks is wasted energy, then?

That’s right; it’s wasted energy, and it impairs the continuity and the flow of the air column from the diaphragm. Kids need to concentrate on it almost like karate—HAH!—when you go through the brick you’ve got to keep a steady flow of air, with evenness in your air column. And that’s kind of hard to do when you’re puffing out your jaws; that’s all it is—very strenuous. Extra energy is expended. And it’s harder on the body.

Clark Terry and Max RoachIs that why Dizzy had such trouble with his intonation when he got older?

I think so, yes, because he didn’t start right, you know and couldn’t overcome that.  One thing, which I think is fascinating, is that he started out playing by just puffing a little bit; and then as his muscles started getting weaker and weaker, he had to put more and more air in there to support the air column.

His wife told me he didn’t start out like that, but as the years passed, his cheeks came out more and more.

If you look at pictures of yesteryear, he just puffed out a little bit in one cheek.

Like when he was with Cab Calloway and Earl Hines.

That’s right. And then he started more and more and more, and it got to the point where the more he filled up, the more he needed filling to support the air that came through—it had to go past those wind pockets.

It used to make me mad when people would jump on his ass at the end, because Dizzy wanted to die with his boots on…


As much as Dizzy gave to us all, it seems like with some guys they either want you on an exercise cycle or six feet under…and I mean, fuck you, man.

That’s right…

But I’ll tell you what, all the times I saw him live during his twilight years, no matter where his pitch might have been that evening, when he got to “Round About Midnight” he was home. In retrospect, it seemed to me that he was such a virtuoso; he had set the bar so high for himself and everyone else; he had defined such a profoundly rhythmic style, that there was a lot less room for error as he got older.


But then again, Miles also had intonation problems as he got on.

Well, Miles used to have a problem in the beginning, too, before he had really perfected the sound he wanted. Miles was one of the few St. Louis cats in his age group who didn’t study with Gustav. But his teacher, Mister Elwood Buchanan, did study with Gustav. So Miles always followed the Harry James thing; he loved vibrato. And when he commenced to vibrating, Mister Buchanan always kept a ruler with some tape wrapped around it, and he’d tell him “Stop shaking that goddamn note, ‘cause you’ll be shaking enough when you get old,” and he would hit him with the ruler.

Well, that’ll do it.

So there was that, plus the fact that Miles just loved those Heim’s mouthpiece that Joe Gustav insisted all of his students play: a very wafer-thin mouthpiece; deep, but it was curlicued outside, and it was a bowl—and he always insisted that all his students play those Heim’s mouthpieces. So Miles would always have me running around hunting for Heim’s mouthpieces.

See, my chops were a little bit too thick to use those little thin curlicue mouthpieces, so I had to resort to something similar to a Rudy Buck back in those days. And I’m sure Mister Buchanan rapping his wrists with that ruler, in combination with those Heim’s mouthpieces, helped him to develop a straight, pure type of sound. When he first came to New York, Bird couldn’t stand his sound. If you ever notice on all those records they made he had the mute in. They’d be playing and Bird’d say “Put that damn mute in [laughter].”

I was thinking about the mouthpiece and the size of the chops, and what you explained to me before when you were talking about hearing the center of the note…when Miles was with Bird, he really didn’t have that, did he?

No he was still working on his tone.

Although harmonically and rhythmically he sure seemed to know his way around.

Oh yeah, his rhythm patterns were beautiful. See, St. Louis was always known as a trumpeter’s town, all the way back to Charlie Kirk, who had a big sound. For some strange reason, trumpeters from that area always had good rhythmic patterns, because there were a lot of good drummers around there, and all the boats that came up from New Orleans stopped in St. Louis.

They were enticed to stop there because the rents were reasonable, the food was good, the booze wasn’t over-priced, and the ladies were pretty and very encouraging.

And that became a very integral part of the perpetuation of jazz. There was Charlie Kirk, and he had a big sound, and then there was Levi Madison, who had the prettiest sound in the world, and people used to go over to listen to him practice outside of his apartment.

But see, Levi was a bit weird, because he would practice for about five minutes, then he would laugh for ten or twenty minutes [laughter]. Play something pretty, then look in the mirror and laugh his ass off. So we’d jump down and not take a lunch just to hear 32 measures, you know.

And there was Hamp Davis—no relation to Miles—who used to be the preacher of all the parades. And St. Louis was a parade town; every day there was some sort of parade—and they couldn’t do a parade without Hamp, because he was the only cat in the world that knew all of them marches, and played every one of them an octave higher with one hand.

Good, God…

With his other hand in his belt or in his pocket, and he glided gracefully through the pot-holes and never missed a note. And there was Crack Stanley, Baby James…there were a whole host of trumpet players for us kids to learn from. And traditionally there were a lot of rhythmic things that we covered in playing with the older guys.

You know, Clark, I could talk to you forever, but I don’t want to burn you out. I would really love to continue this discussion at some point because what you’re talking about needs to be out there—it cannot be lost.

The tradition in which guys like you learned, it sounds like you were blessed to able to reference a combination of the classical tradition and the oral tradition, so you have that balance in your playing, and now the young guys have got all of the classical finesse, but they don’t have a connection to the oral tradition, and also they don’t have…it’s like how writers and musicians are constantly comparing the contemporary Sonny Rollins with the formative Newk of the ‘50s. First, he was a different person back then, and second, it was a radically different time socially….

Clark Terry--Too Old To PimpAbsolutely.

I mean do we want to go back to the way America was in the ‘50s and ‘60s just to get better jazz?


Of course not, still, there’s a certain depth and richness to the vernacular you and cats of your generation would’ve gotten from playing a whole gaggle of gigs that had nothing to do with jazz. Lester Bowie, who was from St. Louis, told me about his formative days playing with medicine shows and circuses and the last generation of black vaudeville; growing up in the south—all sorts of life experiences, good and bad, that constitute a vital part of the music…

Clark Terry, SeatedAbsolutely.

And that’s what people really don’t get when they’re writing about it. It’s not just about the notes on the record—it’s about a spiritual and cultural and a social context.


So that’s what I’d like to expand upon when we get another opportunity to speak.  In the meantime, thanks for everything, sir, and God bless.

Posted in radiofreechip
2 comments on “Clark Terry: Heart…Soul…Class
  1. Dave Marsh says:

    Chip–this is fabulous. (The Terry piece would be worth a long long look if only for the Doc Severinson picture.)

    As always I love attending the University of Chip Stern.

    Stay well, brother

    • radiofreechip says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Brother Marsh.

      Means a lot coming from you.

      And by all means, keep the conversation going about Mister Clark Terry.

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