Clark Terry: Jazz Musician’s Biography, Discography, Famous Songs, and Awards

An excellent trumpeter, flugelhornist, composer, writer, and teacher, Clark Terry gained his recognition during the mid-20th century. Within the jazz scene, he became known for his innovative and lyrical trumpet playing style, featuring the creative and fine improvisations. In this article, we feature the most significant points of his musical career.

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Clark Terry’s musical career

Clark Terry started his musical career in the 1940s, with his performances in local clubs and gathered pace with his collaborations with various big bands and renowned jazz musicians such as Charlie Barnet, Quincy Jones, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. He entered the history of jazz as a talented trumpeter, flugelhornist, composer, writer, musical instrument designer and a teacher.

Clark Terry in his younger years

Clark blended St. Louis tone with a wide range of contemporary styles from swing to hard bop. He was also known for his technical proficiency and good sense of humor. Terry’s musical talents left a great impression on Quincy Jones and Miles Davis. They both admit that Clark was a great inspiration for them during their first steps in musical careers. Terry was also a soloist of the Duke Ellington’s renowned orchestra, where he played for eight years.

Duke Ellington orchestra

His extended collaboration with the Tonight Show band, led by Johnny Carson, became one of his most significant achievements. It all started with him accepting an offer from the National Broadcasting Company in 1960 to become its African American staff musician, which also meant to break the color barrier.

The answer to the question why Clark Terry was important is obvious: because he became the first African American playing in the band on a major US television network. He had been with NBC for twelve years, from 1960 to 1972, serving as a soloist of the Tonight Show band. Being featured in the show, Clark Terry did a great job to popularize jazz to a broader audience. 

Clark Terry in Tonight Show

During his work at NBC, accompanied by many concerts, recording dates, cruises, and festivals, Clark Terry became more devoted to another great passion – jazz education. As a jazz teacher, he conducted many jazz workshops and teaching in educational institutions. His successful mentorship of younger musicians motivated him to form youth bands.

Clark Terry became an inspiration for many jazz legends whom he taught at jazz camps and festivals. He believed that with his teaching of jazz, he helped aspiring musicians’ dreams come true. He acquired such love and respect as a teacher that students from all corners of the globe traveled to his home to receive jazz lessons.

Clark Terry’s awards, achievements and recognition

With the career of more than seventy years, Clark Terry was lucky to perform for eight Presidents of the US. He became a Jazz Ambassador for State Department tours in the Middle East and Africa. He appeared at more than fifty festivals, devoted to jazz, playing both at sea and on land worldwide.

Furthermore, he is the owner of numerous Grammies and NARAS Awards, including 2010 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, two Grammy certificates, three Grammy nominations, and NARAS President’s Merit Award.

Clark Terry Honored at the Grammy Awards

As a great contributor to jazz education, Clark Terry was recognized with three adjunct professorships and fifteen honorary doctorates, many awards from junior high schools, elementary schools and high schools, where he mentored the younger generation of musicians.

He was also honored with awards from his hometown in St. Louis, such as a Hall of Fame Award, a Walk of Fame Award and Star on Blueberry Hill, as well as the wax figure at the Griot Museum. Apart from those ones, Terry was recognized with Jazz Master Awards and lifetime achievement awards.  

Clark Terry’s discography and legacy

Without the exaggeration, Clark Terry is considered one of the most recorded musicians in the jazz history. He presented more than nine hundred recordings to the world. He recorded albums as a bandleader and a sideman, collaborating with other artists.

His discography features collaborations with many prominent masters such as Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Charlie Barnet, Ben Webster, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billy Strayhorn, Dexter Gordon, and many others.

Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Charlie Barnet, Ben Webster, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billy Strayhorn, Dexter Gordon

The most notable recordings include "Serenade to a Bus Seat," "In Orbit", "Portraits", "Mumbles". Whether Terry played in the band or just had jam session, he had an ability to bring a distinctive feature to the music.

Clark Terry albums

Clark Terry didn’t stop being an active figure in the jazz world until his death on February 21, 2015, at the age of 94. The musician left behind a great legacy, featuring his professional skills on the trumpet and flugelhorn, and an innovative approach to improvisation. Jazz musicians around the world continue to listen to his music and inspire with his energy and musical quality.

More to come

We’re continuing revealing interesting facts about musicians who made a great impact on the development of jazz as a genre. On our website, we have already articles about Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Arturo Sandoval, Till Brönner, Bobby Shew, and Freddie Hubbard. There will be more such articles, so stay tuned.

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