(December 14, 1920-February 21, 2015)
A Remembrance by Alan Chase
The jazz world is in mourning today with the announcement of the passing of Clark Terry at the age of 94 on Saturday, February 21st. Renowned for his masterful playing on the trumpet and flugelhorn, Clark Terry was a first class musician, teacher and humanitarian whose ebullient personality and commitment to passing on the jazz language touched literally hundreds of thousands of people around the world over the course of a seventy-year career. Here in the Seacoast area, we had the opportunity to experience firsthand Clark Terry’s commitment to passing on that language by way of his affiliation with the jazz program at the University of New Hampshire and its coordinator Dave Seiler. It was an affiliation that spanned forty years with this musician and man who touched everyone he came in contact with in a highly positive way.
Clark Terry’s general biography is well known so we’ll dispense with an exhaustive chronicling here in favor of a few choice highlights. He was born and raised in St. Louis where he discovered his passion for the trumpet at a young age. Playing local gigs led to a stint in the Navy. Following his discharge, he played with several bands, including the band of Charlie Barnet, followed by time with the big band and small group of Count Basie which in turn led to his joining Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1950. Leaving Ellington’s band in 1959, CT then joined the big band of his first student, Quincy Jones. Clark would go on to be the first black musician to join the Tonight Show Orchestra and on to a productive career as a leader, freelancer, educator and humanitarian, a career that would span over seventy years. It was his interest in jazz education that ultimately led CT to UNH.
Clark Terry began his relationship with UNH in early 1975 with his first appearance on the UNH Jazz Festival. At that time, the festival was a one-day event that took place on a Friday in late February or early March. It was immediately apparent at that particular festival just how special a person this musician was and how enthusiastic he was about teaching young people about the beauty of jazz. At the ’75 festival, Clark performed with the UNH Jazz Band and his quartet on the evening performance, a format he would continue upon his return to the festival in 1987. The relationship with the university having been established, CT’s next appearance with the UNH group would be on a special performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in the summer of 1976. Dave Seiler submitted a tape to the festival along with recommendations from Leon Breedon, Director of the 1 O’Clock Jazz Band at North Texas State University and from Clark Terry. The band was awarded a slot on the evening program to perform with Sarah Vaughn, the first college group to be given such an honor. Ms. Vaughn ultimately made a decision to perform with her quartet instead, so CT stepped in to fill the void on the concert which was a rousing success. Over the next eleven years, CT would appear on several performances by the band at a variety of venues ranging from Sandy’s Jazz Revival in Beverly, MA in 1983 to a series of tours through Europe the band made between 1983 and 1991. In March of 1987, CT returned to the UNH Jazz Festival, beginning a 21-year run of headlining the event. In 1990, the festival was renamed the Clark Terry/UNH Jazz Festival, a name that lasts to this day. During his years being associated with the event, CT brought many of his peers and friends to appear on the festival, all of whom shared his passion for jazz education. A partial list of these luminaries include saxophonists Frank Wess, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster and Phil Woods, bassist Ray Brown, trombonists Hal Crook and Carl Fontana, Ingrid Jensen and Herb Pomeroy on trumpet, drummer Louie Bellson, pianist James Williams as well as CT’s working group with Don Friedman on piano, Marcus McLaurine on bass and Sylvia Cuenca on drums. A special highlight from this period took place at the March 2003 festival when saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Bill Pierce joined CT for a memorable performance.
In May of 1978, Clark Terry received an honorary doctorate from UNH, the first of many he would receive from numerous institutions around the country including the Berklee School in 1988 and New England Conservatory in 1997. In 1988, Clark was appointed as an adjunct professor of music at UNH where he would appear once per semester for a residency, where he would inspire several students to pursue jazz as a career via workshops, master classes and performances with the students in the university music program, inspiring many including Trent Austin, Steve Guerra, Marc LaForce, Chris Klaxton, Mark Shilansky, Ryan Parker and Chris Burbank, among many others to pursue a jazz career. Clark also made periodic appearances at the UNH Summer Youth Music School, also known as SYMS, during his tenure at UNH. He also appeared at a second UNH summer program, the Summer Select Program in Music and English in the mid-nineties. UNH-affiliated faculty and students also took part in the Clark Terry Big Bad Band Camp in LeMars, Iowa in the ’nineties as well. Additionally, Clark appeared on the 1995 Portsmouth Jazz Festival with the Seacoast Big Band along with guest Louie Bellson on drums. He also appeared on the Harry Jones Scholarship Concert held at the Music Hall in Portsmouth in the fall of 1998 with the Seacoast Big Band and guests Marshall Royal on saxophone and Snooky Young on trumpet. Clark also appeared as a guest performer with Frank Wess at a kick-off event in Manchester for the Ken Burns documentary series “Jazz” in the fall of 1999. Suffice it to say that Clark Terry’s contributions to promoting the language of jazz in New Hampshire were many and plentiful.
Beginning in December 1990, UNH hosted a series of birthday celebrations for CT with each bringing several jazz luminaries to celebrate the occasion. At the first celebration, guests included a special alumni big band as well as Louie Bellson, Milt Hinton, James Williams and Doc Cheatham, Herb Pomeroy and Ryan Kisor on trumpet. Additional celebrations were held in 1995, 2000 and 2005, all featuring an assortment of guests including Bob Brookmeyer, Nicholas Payton and Roger Kellaway, among many others.
Beginning in 2009, health issues prevented CT from continuing to appear at UNH. Yet, the legacy of his importance to the university and to the state lives on in the festival that bears his name. Clark’s accomplishments on the world jazz stage are well known and have been documented thoroughly elsewhere, most recently in Alan Hicks’s remarkably notable documentary film “Keep On Keepin’ On,” which was also one of Clark’s favorite catch phrases. Clark was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2002 and received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010. In 2005, he received an award from the Portsmouth based Blues Bank Collective recognizing his achievements in the jazz world.
Those who experienced CT in performance, a workshop or in an informal setting in the Seacoast area and beyond, not only had the opportunity to consistently experience this man’s stunning musical virtuosity. Equally important, we experienced the positivity of his humanity, which everyone he encountered will carry in their hearts and their memories for the rest of their lives.
Rest in Peace, Clark. We’ll keep on keepin’ on for you down here.
Alan Chase is a freelance writer and musician who also served as a UNH artist assistant to Clark Terry for 20 years.