Jazz legend Clark Terry has died. Here is an excerpt from his New York Times obit.
Clark Terry, one of the most popular and influential jazz trumpeters of his generation and an enthusiastic advocate of jazz education, died on Saturday in Pine Bluff, Ark. He was 94.
Terry was acclaimed for his impeccable musicianship, loved for his playful spirit and respected for his adaptability. Although his sound on both trumpet and the rounder-toned fluegelhorn (which he helped popularize as a jazz instrument) was highly personal and easily identifiable, he managed to fit it snugly into a wide range of musical contexts.
He was one of the few musicians to have worked with the orchestras of both Duke Ellington and Count Basie. He was for many years a constant presence in New York’s recording studios — accompanying singers, sitting in big-band trumpet sections, providing music for radio and television commercials. He recorded with Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and other leading jazz artists as well as his own groups.
He was also one of the first black musicians to hold a staff position at a television network and was for many years a mainstay of the “Tonight Show” band, as well as one of the most high-profile proponents of teaching jazz at the college level.
His fellow musicians respected him as an inventive improviser with a graceful and ebullient style, traces of which can be heard in the playing of Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and others. But many listeners knew him best for the vocal numbers with which he peppered his performances, a distinctively joyous brand of scat singing in which noises as well as nonsense syllables took the place of words. It was an off-the-cuff recording of one such song, released in 1964 under the name “Mumbles,” that became his signature song.
The high spirits of “Mumbles” were characteristic of Terry’s approach: More than most jazz musicians of his generation, he was unafraid to fool around. His sense of humor manifested itself in his onstage demeanor as well as in his penchant for growls, slurs and speechlike effects.
Musicians and critics saw beyond the clowning and recognized Terry’s seriousness of purpose. Stanley Crouch wrote in The Village Voice in 1983 that Terry “stands as tall in the evolution of his horn as anyone who has emerged since 1940.”
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