Clark Terry Day

December 14, 1920 – February 21, 2015


The great flugelhornist is remembered

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Flugelhornist and occasional singer Clark Terry was born December 14, 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri.

An important link in the St. Louis trumpet tradition between Dewey Jackson and Miles Davis, Terry began playing professionally in St. Louis in the early 1940s including with George Hudson’s band.

After serving in the Navy, he was featured with the orchestras of Lionel Hampton (1945), George Hudson again, Charlie Barnet (a fairly modern outfit during 1947-48) and Count Basie’s big band (1948-49) and septet (1950-51).

A member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra during 1951-59, Terry developed a joyful style that fell between swing and bop (Dizzy Gillespie was an early influence) along with an instantly recognizable sound; he was well featured with Ellington during this period in addition to leading albums of his own.

Terry began doubling on flugelhorn around 1957 (it soon became his main horn) and, after leaving Ellington in 1959, toured Europe with the Quincy Jones Orchestra and then, upon his return to the U.S., became one of the first full time black studio players, joining the staff of NBC.

A fixture on the jazz club and festival circuit for many decades in addition to being an enthusiastic educator, Clark Terry was a member of the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band, co-led a quintet with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, was part of the Tonight Show Band when it was based in New York, led his own big band in the 1970s, and appeared on a countless number of recordings as both a leader and a featured sideman.

Starting with a 1960s recording with the Oscar Peterson Trio, Terry sang purposely incoherent and humorous vocals as “Mumbles,” his satire of early blues singers.

C.T. had the happiest sound in jazz and his flugelhorn was instantly recognizable within two or three notes; his playing was as lovable as his personality.

Here is Clark Terry and the Oscar Peterson Trio at a 1965 concert in Finland having a good time playing his “Blues For Smedley” with Terry having a conversation with himself on flugelhorn and trumpet.


Clark Terry, flugelhorn, trumpet
Oscar Peterson, piano
Ray Brown, bass
Ed Thigpen, drums

-Scott Yanow


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