Trumpeter, composer, bandleader and jazz educator Clark Terry will be 91 years old this week. His 70-plus year career is being celebrated with a couple of biographical events.
Due out soon is a film which takes its title from Mr. Terry’s favorite phrase of support, “Keep on keepin’on!”
The book “Clark-The Autobiography of Clark Terry” was released in October to great praise from the jazz community and press. In it, Clark talks about his beginnings in St. Louis and tells stories about his work with Charlie Barnet, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Also, he discusses his time as a staff musician at NBC, which included 12 years with the Tonight Show band, and the discovery of his calling to teach and mentor young musicians, which he says is the joy of his life. Thousands of students and others he has encouraged adore Clark, or “Cee Tee,” as he’s known to many.
The book, written with his wife Gwen, is so conversational that it’s very much like an extended visit with Clark. He’s a born storyteller, whether with his trumpet or with words. I found it delightful from start to finish.
First person (by Robin Lloyd)
Folks who spend any time with Clark Terry love to talk about the experience. I’m no exception. Here’s my Cee Tee story:
In March of 1980, I was a fledgling jazz host and producer at a little gem of a public radio station, WFBE-FM in Flint, MI. When I heard that Clark Terry was coming to Flint to do clinics, workshops and concerts with high school and college bands, I begged and pleaded with the Mott Community College band director (a very patient man named Chuck Iwanusa, who is still teaching somewhere, I believe) to bring Clark to the station to tape an interview. He agreed, we set a time, and wonder of wonders, I was soon sitting down with Chuck and Clark Terry and a tape machine. This was my first radio interview with a major jazz artist.
Cee Tee is what I refer to as the radio host’s ideal guest: the self-winding interviewee.
You ask a basic question, you get a well-thought out answer, a couple of interesting stories to go along with it, and if you’re lucky, a good joke, too. Clark had it all!
I asked the simple ones (Clark built his first trumpet with parts from junkyard) and Chuck helped with specific questions to fill in details (getting stood up by Lionel Hampton, waiting for the call from Duke Ellington and, when it finally came, thinking it was a friend playing a joke. This happened twice.).
I confess to just sitting back and taking it all in, listening to this acclaimed musician whose recordings I loved and whose appearances on television were a big event in my house. I will never forget his brilliant smile, his twinkling eyes and his laugh as we chatted across the table.
It was over all too soon. On our way out of the studio, I complimented Clark, always a sharp dresser, on his beautifully-made winter coat.
He shared one more story: the coat belonged to his wife Pauline, who had passed away just four months previously. He wore it to keep her close, and to feel her warmth.
He was still in mourning, but he’d made a commitment to work with these students in Flint, and he was not about to let them down.
We hugged, and made plans to visit backstage at the concert he’d give at the end of the week of clinics and workshops.
My copy of the taped interview was lost years ago in a flooded basement.
I have one Polaroid snapshot of me and Cee Tee backstage on concert night. I treasure that picture, and I keep it handy for those times when I need to be reminded to “keep on keepin’ on!”
Send Clark a note
Clark has been in hospital since mid-October, and last week had his right leg amputated. Gwen reads him all the greetings left on his website’s guestbook and in the comments on his blog. It really cheers him to hear from those he’s influenced and encouraged through the years. Send him some birthday love this week.
Clark Terry Documentary Near Completion
KPLU Studio Session: Kevin Kniestedt interviews Clark Terry