Clark Terry passed away on Saturday at the age of 94. He’s one of my favorite musicians, and I want to take a moment to celebrate his playing and what made him one of the greatest jazz trumpet players.
Musician First, Trumpet Player Second
Jazz historian Scott Yanow called Clark Terry “possessor of the happiest sound in jazz,” and I can’t think of a better way to put it. His playing was all about expressing emotion, not displaying chops. I’m a much better player myself when I keep this idea in mind.
In other words, Clark was one of those rare players whose impressive technical abilities always took a back seat to his musicianship. The musical message always came through.
As a trumpet player, I sometimes focus on a great player’s technique and have to remind myself to appreciate her musicianship, too. With Clark Terry, I have the opposite problem: he’s such an expressive musician that I have to remind myself that what he’s doing on the trumpet is incredible as well.
Check out this clip of him playing the standard “Pennies From Heaven” at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977 with an all-star lineup: Ronnie Scott, Milt Jackson, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, and Bobby Durham. Dig how the tune alternates between the keys of Bb and Eb every chorus, by the way.
Clark’s technique on the flugelhorn is jaw-dropping, but listen to the pure musicianship here!