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Artist Profiles

Clark Terry: Having Fun

By Published: October 25, 2004
Once, he said, "the majority of them used to couldn't care less about what happened in the past, but now we've gotten them to realize that they don't know what happened in the past and they need to know. It's like putting up a building: in order to go up high, you have to dig deep. The more they learn about what's going on in the profession, then the better it is."

Lost in all of his activities is the fact that Terry has one of the longest working regular small groups in jazz, the newest member being with the quintet some nine years, the longest-serving about 40 years.

"We've got one person, [pianist] Don Friedman; we've been together for 40 years off and on. [Bassist] Marcus [McLaurine] and I have been together 27 years. The drummer [Sylvia Cuenca] came in about... 15 years ago and sat in with us one night at the Village Vanguard. She's been there ever since. The new guy in the band, [saxophonist] David Glasser, he's only been with the band [about] ten years."

The band may not be constantly touring, but its members always seem to be available for Terry.

"When you treat people like human beings, as you yourself would like to be treated, you command a lot of respect that way. They give preference. The priorities are there, whenever there's a choice, even if it's a matter of a little less money, they prefer to go with your group," he said. "They're very compatible. We love each other and we love to play together."

Working with Terry "is an amazing experience," said Cuenca. "I feel really honored to be sharing the bandstand with a master like Clark. I'm very lucky to get that experience. He's an innovator and master of the music.

"He's so consistent every night. Seeing a master like him always on a certain level. He's great to be around. It's inspiring," she said. "Playing with Clark all these years, I've got to meet a lot of great musicians that have been around for years and it's really a valuable experience.

I just feel happy for the opportunity. Very happy. I've learned a lot. I'm still learning," she added.

"My first gig was actually here at the Blue Note back in 1981," McLaurine recalled. "He kept calling me back, so I figured I certainly had a shot in the band. So here I sit, 23 years later. There was no audition at all. The audition was like the first night that I played. I was very nervous. I was very green.

"He was very patient and was very in terms of helping me, in terms of developing my sound and my feeling. That's one thing that's good about Clark. He's very helpful with young players. If he sees sincerity in your playing and your attitude, then he's very open in terms of trying to help you develop. That's one of his real gifts," McLaurine said.

"It's a spontaneous music. Clark sets the thing up and we can play what we feel like playing," said Friedman, who estimated he has been playing with Terry in various settings from small group to big band about 40 years. "The music always swings and Clark's a great player. It really feels like you're playing with one of the greatest players in jazz.

"He's a great leader because he... doesn't tell you how to play or anything like that. He just leads by example. That's the best way to teach or lead or something like that, rather than try to explain something," Friedman said. "We've never really talked about how to play or what to play. You just do it. You just feel it and you do it. That's jazz."

With all this work, are there any mornings Terry wakes up tired? "Almost every morning - evening, actually," he said with his characteristic laugh.

"You have to be determined that you're going to keep at it and keep doing it 'til you get it right. And it takes a long time to get it right," he said. "So, I'm still trying to get it right."

Six reviews of Porgy & Bess.

Recommended Listening

– Clark Terry - Clark Terry (Emarcy-Polygram/Verve, 1954)

– Clark Terry (with Thelonious Monk) - In Orbit (Riverside-OJC, 1958)

– Clark Terry - Color Changes (Candid, 1960)

– Oscar Peterson & Clark Terry (Pablo-OJC, 1975)

– Clark Terry - One on One (Chesky, 1999)

– Clark Terry & Max Roach - Friendship (Eighty Eight's-Columbia, 2003)

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