Clark Terry Gives a Drum Lesson
As recalled by Mark Shilansky
I was directing the combos at University of New Hampshire a few years ago, early 2000s. It was early in the semester. I was surprised that it was Clark Terry Week and he was coming to coach us. The deck was stacked against us a bit because my bassist was off getting stoned somewhere, so I had to play some left hand bass on one of the pianos in the room. I think Jonny Peiffer was a student at the time and on the other piano.
Anyway, Alan Chase wheels Clark in. At this point he was always getting around in a wheelchair, but still playing “Rhythm” changes better than anyone at mm=400, but had trouble tying his shoelaces… amazing which motor skills the body remembers and which it doesn’t. And Clark was hilarious because he asked me if I had seen some musicians in Boston recently, and I said I hadn’t, and he said “Well if you see Person X will you tell them that Clark Terry told them to go *#*$ themselves?” because it was someone who Clark had done some clinics with and it didn’t go so well.
So, the skill level was all over the place in this combo. We asked Clark what he wanted to hear/play and he said, kind of atypically, “How about Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Up Jumped Spring?’” And we said sure, and started playing this jazz waltz, and immediately it was falling apart. We had sort of a young student drummer, jazzistically, and he wasn’t getting it. And Clark stopped us and started yelling, “Who parked the car, baby? Who parked the car?” And we got concerned, and Alan said, “Clark are you OK? Do you want me to get the car? Do you need to go to the hospital?” because that had happened before on Clark’s visits. The man was in his 80’s and had many health problems. But NO… Clark explained that saying the sentence “Who parked the car?” spelled out the essential rhythmic framework of the jazz waltz, accenting the “and” of 1 and beat three… as Dizzy Gillespie might say “oo BOP sha BAM!” Well, Clark sang that to our drummer, and he sounded immediately like Elvin Jones, he started swinging his ass off, and the whole rest of the session was slamming, the kids played better and better and the drummer had never sounded better, and then the next combo session later that afternoon. Stepko Gut (Clark’s assistant at that time) and Clark played “What Is This Thing Called Love” with us (I think this was Chris Klaxton’s combo) and it got all modern and weird and awesome.
So, “Who parked the car?” = jazz waltz rhythm.
Mark Shilansky is a New Hampshire native, having grown up in a suburb of Concord; he began writing songs in elementary school there. Mark received a BA in Music Performance in 1992 from the University of New Hampshire and a Masters of Music in Jazz Studies in 1994 from New England Conservatory of Music. He is currently an Assistant Professor, Ear Training, at Berklee College of Music in Boston and a candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at New England Conservatory.