Famed jazz trumpeter and educator Clark Terry has died at the age of 94, his wife confirmed in a post on Terry’s web site. Terry broke the color line on NBC’s The Tonight Show when he joined the house band, where he played for 12 years and where his “Mumbles” scat singing style became a popular routine for the show (and subsequently a hit song). More recently, his mentoring of a blind young pianist was the subject of the 2014 documentary Keep On Keepin’ On.
Terry’s wife, Gwen, posted the following notice on Terry’s site:
“Our beloved Clark Terry has joined the big band in heaven where he’ll be singing and playing with the angels. He left us peacefully, surrounded by his family, students and friends. Clark has known and played with so many amazing people in his life. He has found great joy in his friendships and his greatest passion was spending time with his students. We will miss him every minute of every day, but he will live on through the beautiful music and positivity that he gave to the world. Clark will live in our hearts forever.
With all my love, Gwen Terry”
Terry was one of the most frequently recorded jazz musicians in history, appearing on more than 900 recordings. He played trumpet and flugelhorn with such members of the jazz Mount Rushmore as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Quincy Jones. He also was a pioneering jazz educator, beginning early in his career when he informally taught Miles Davis when both were young men in the St. Louis area. He also founded what eventually became Harlem Mobile in New York City, teaching jazz to young players, and subsequently created or worked with a huge range of jazz camps and college jazz programs.
Terry was born in St. Louis on Dec. 14, 1920. He served in the U.S. Navy for three years during WWII, then returned to jazz music with a series of jobs in prominent big bands before joining Count Basie’s famed ensemble in 1948. In 1951, he joined Ellington orchestra, where he was a featured soloist for eight years.
After leaving Ellington’s orchestra in 1959 and then touring with a musical, Terry joined the house band for The Tonight Show, becoming the first African-American member of the group, playing under Doc Severinsen
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Among the other notables with whom Terry recorded were Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Billy Strayhorn, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Gerry Mulligan, Sarah Vaughan and Coleman Hawkins.
He received a 2010 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, NARAS President’s Merit Award, three Grammy nominations, and two Grammy certificates. Terry continued to teach even as he passed 90, and was featured in the recent documentary Keep On Keepin’ On, which movingly detailed his relationship with young blind jazz musician.
He wrote a string of books about music education and also recently published a memoir, Clark – The Autobiography of Clark Terry. Because of his work in jazz education, he has been awarded 15 honorary doctorates. The countries of France, Austria and Germany all honored Terry for his contributions.
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