Amazon.com Widgets
119 Recommend It!

Clark Terry with Gwen Terry: Clark - The Autobiography of Clark Terry

By Published: | 5,124 views
Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry

Clark Terry with Gwen Terry

Hardcover; 344 pages

ISBN: 9780520268463

University of California Press

2011

There are many sad stories in jazz. Cornetist Joe King Oliver
Joe King Oliver
1885 - 1938
cornet
lost his embouchure and ended up working as a janitor in a pool hall, singer Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
was arrested on her deathbed, trumpeter Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
trumpet
was killed on stage by his enraged common-law wife—and that's just the tip of the iceberg. In contrast to the sorrowful histories that many jazz fans have come to expect, the autobiography of trumpeter and flugelhornist Clark Terry is an enormous treat: Terry has led a long, rich life, and if the nine pages of awards listed at the end of the book are any indication, his great talent and enormous contributions to jazz have been duly recognized, including receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2010 Grammys. That's not to say that Terry didn't suffer through hard times: he did, and that's what makes his story even more remarkable.

Born in 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri, Terry was the seventh of eleven children. His mother died young, and the family grew up poor: at one point Terry, his father, and seven of his siblings lived in a three-room apartment with no electricity or running water, and sometimes the only underclothes available to Terry was a pair of his sister's hand-me-down flowered bloomers. The emotional situation at home was no better: his father was an angry, complex man who used to beat Terry regularly, and kicked him out of the house when he was only twelve.

But from an early age, music provided a light. With his best friend Shitty, Terry constructed his first trumpet from junkyard scraps, until eventually his neighbors (including the jovial Mr. Butt) chipped in and got him a real instrument. His brother-in-law Sy was a musician, and he freely gave Terry lessons and encouragement whenever he was in town. Terry practiced constantly, and he paid his dues the old school way: his first significant job was playing with a traveling carnival, which once included making a 750-mile trip in the back of a truck with nine monkeys.

Terry's career started to take off when he got a gig with the legendary pianist and bandleader Fate Marable
Fate Marable
Fate Marable
1890 - 1947
composer/conductor
, and as his career unfolded over the decades, he played with the full roster of twentieth-century jazz greats. Highlights of Terry's illustrious career include working with pianist Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
, eight years in pianist Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
's orchestra, introducing the flugelhorn as a jazz instrument, breaking racial barriers as the first black musician hired by NBC in 1960 (which led to a twelve-year stint on The Tonight Show), organizing his own big band, and the creation of his beloved alter ego, Mumbles.

Terry is also one of the great jazz educators of our time. When he was twenty years old, he brushed off an eager young trumpeter named Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
, and when Davis later chastised Terry for this rebuff, Terry vowed to make himself available to the younger generation. He managed to do so while touring (including giving trumpet lessons to producer Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
b.1933
producer
when Jones was a teenager), but in 1971 Terry put teaching at the center of his life, and since that time he has worked with thousands of students, including saxophonist Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis
Branford Marsalis
b.1960
saxophone
and trumpeter Byron Stripling
Byron Stripling
Byron Stripling
b.1961
trumpet
.

From the first page, Terry's unpretentious, down-to-earth voice is captivating, and his memory for dialogue and sensory details brings to life the great figures of jazz, whether he's talking about playing softball with singer Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
1917 - 1996
vocalist
, or going with fellow trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
to visit Louis Armstrong at his home in Queens. What also sets this book apart is the fact that Terry is inspirational not just as a musician, but as a person. He is a deeply thoughtful man who worked hard to learn from his mistakes, and even in the darkest of times Terry never seems to have lost sight of his moral compass.

Perhaps the saddest story in jazz is when great musicians don't get a chance to share their unique history. How fortunate that Terry (with help from his second wife, Gwen) has created such a lively, memorable book, a work that will allow subsequent generations access to one of jazz's great figures, as well as a fine human being.

Featured recording “Porgy & Bess”

Porgy & Bess

(2004)
Support All About Jazz Through Amazon

Weekly Giveaways

Tom Chang

Tom Chang

About | Enter

Cedar Walton

Cedar Walton

About | Enter

Sheryl Bailey

Sheryl Bailey

About | Enter

Roscoe Mitchell

Roscoe Mitchell

About | Enter

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW