December 14, 1920 – February 21, 2015
I first heard Clark Terry in 1976 at the Kool Pacific Jazz Festival when I was growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was playing with Benny Carter, Barney Bigard, and Joe Venuti. He blew everybody away with the most phenomenal trumpet and flugelhorn playing I had ever heard. He played 2 horns at once, scat sang “Mumbles” and brought the house down. After the show he took the time to say hello to a group of us high school jazz musicians. His positive energy and enthusiasm was uplifting. He instantly became one of my heroes.
Fast forward four years and I was at North Texas State in Denton, TX., playing in the One O’Clock Lab Band and doing gigs in the Dallas/ Ft. Worth area. On some weekends I would tag along with my friend Charlie Young (brilliant alto saxophonist) and sit in with Red Garland at the Recovery Room in South Dallas. One night Clark showed up and lit up the bandstand in his inimitable manner. Jam sessions were where he took the music to another planet. I introduced myself and he told me he was starting a new big band. He gave me his manager’s info and I sent in a cassette tape. Next thing I knew I was on my way to join the Clark Terry Youth Big Band.
In the winter of 1981 we all made our way to NYC. Myself, Branford (Marsalis), Byron (Stripling), and a whole crew of young players, who have become friends for life. We had a blast touring Europe and the States with CT. He gave us so much positive energy. Every day was a life lesson. Clark was jazz royalty, loved by all the musicians, promoters, and fans. We were truly blessed to become members of his extended family.
My father was an Army officer and got transferred to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. When Clark played at Blues Alley he came over to my parents house for Sunday dinner. My Mom is an amazing chef and Clark really threw down on some Turkey, Ham, and all the fixings.
From then on whenever we would meet up he would ask about my folks and praise her cooking. It was all about family. Truly, it was all about love. Love for others as much as the pure love and joy for music.
The Clark Terry documentary, “Keep on Keeping On”, is one of the most poignant and moving films ever made about jazz music and the jazz life. For those of us who called him “Chief”, Clark was an inspiration and role model. He constantly encouraged us, recommended us to others, and most of all inspired us to be the best we could be, in every way. Music was important, for sure , but the supreme message was “Love” with a capital “L”. Clark Terry was a giant among giants and an incarnation of all that is truly good on this earth.