I Feel More Like I Do Now Than I Did Yesterday
A Collection of Remembered Stories by Brad Terry
Brad Terry can’t spell his way out of a paper bag. As for grammar, punctuation and syntax, he’s similarly handicapped. Never mind. Brad has one writing skill that any writer can envy: He writes the way he talks. That singular ability, and the facts of Brad’s remarkable life, make this collection of remembered stories a most engaging narrative indeed.
A central fact of Brad Terry’s story is something he learned about himself when he was 58 years old: Brad has, and has always had, attention deficit disorder (ADD). It explains a lot, including his struggles with writing. As a schoolboy, long before ADD was a recognized condition, he was judged to lack focus and had trouble learning. Brad is today a world-class clarinetist and jazz whistler, but he can’t read music. After repeated attempts, even at some of the world’s most renowned music education institutions, he could never learn to read it. He had to wait until he was well into his middle age before he finally knew why.
I Feel More Like I Do Now Than I Did Yesterday is the story of a life cobbled together against the odds on the strength of one man’s talents, his passion, his ability to improvise and his courage.
Brad Terry was born into a well-to-do Fairfield County, Connecticut, family, spent years of his young life in London and in the Netherlands, and more years growing up in New England boarding schools, moving on from one to the next as he failed to keep up in his studies. At an early age, he found refuge in music, playing endlessly a recorder that had been given to him.
Next door to the Terry residence in Connecticut lived a very famous clarinetist: Benny Goodman himself. In a conversation with this neighbor, Brad’s mother told of her son’s interest in music and expressed her concern about the boy’s academic struggles, “Buy him a clarinet!” suggested Goodman. And so she did—a clarinet that came with three free lessons. With those few lessons under his belt, along with one or two from Goodman, Brad went on to develop on his own, through practice and performance. At one time, he was taken under the wing of saxophonist and Basie Band member Buddy Tate, who took his young protegé into Harlem jazz clubs and got him up on bandstands with some of the day’s greatest jazz musicians.
Brad’s playing has won him accolades from Jim Hall, Roger Kellaway, Gene Lees, Doug Ramsey, even Dizzy Gillespie. He has also developed a large fan base in Poland, which he has visited repeatedly, performing concerts and conducting workshops for budding young jazz musicians in that country and beyond. Some of today’s most in-demand European players, in fact, had their first lessons in jazz improvisation at the feet of Brad Terry.
Music is unsurprisingly the river that runs through this book. But it’s only one of a number of themes and adventures that Brad presents here. There is, of course, the story of his quest to learn why he was always “different,” struggling as he did with learning and with focus. There’s the revelation too of Brad’s other skills and abilities—all self-taught, of course—and the accomplishments that grew out of them.
Brad’s understanding of the way cars work, for instance, enabled him, on one of his Poland excursions, to drive a car whose clutch had failed. He was able, of course, to do his own car repairs. And, at least once, he removed the engine from a car and replaced it with one more to his liking, meaning far more powerful.
He bought a three-car garage in Bath, Maine, and on a shoestring budget, transformed it into the home he has lived in ever since.
With his only credentials his character and a nurturing personality, Brad landed a job at a New York boarding school as a teacher of English—yes!—and of Shop, a job he held for some years.
But looming very large in Brad Terry’s life—second only to music, it must be said—was Brad’s “Island Camp.” Every summer, for twenty-five years, Brad recruited 16 teen-aged boys, some of them disadvantaged and on “scholarship,” and ran a six-week-long camp off the coast of Maine, organized around a few simple principles devised by Brad, but mostly improvised around his particular set of skills and interests. A large section of this book is devoted to letters and emails from former campers—now adults, of course—who testify to the central importance in their lives of the experience of that camp and of their love and enduring respect for Brad Terry.
Over the course of these many years, Brad has been a frequent presence here on the Seacoast—performing at the original Seacoast Festival, at The Press Room and other venues—and so has many friends in the jazz community here. Those many friends will perhaps learn things in this book about Brad Terry they never knew. But this book will also have the effect, one imagines, of creating new friends for this courageous improviser.
I Feel More Like I Do Now Than I Did Yesterday, by Brad Terry, can be purchased for $24.95 on Lulu by clicking here.