William Paterson University Professor of Music and Coordinator of Jazz Studies
Clark Terry was a longtime member of both Count Basie and Duke Ellington bands (two historic jazz figures). That distinction alone would make him notable. However, in addition, he was the first black member of a network studio orchestra, starting in 1960 as a member of the NBC Tonight Show Orchestra under the direction of Skitch Henderson. When Carson moved the show from New York to Los Angeles, Terry declined the offer to front the band because of all the studio and jazz work he had on the east coast and he recommended the young Doc Severinsen (then a young player in the section) for the leadership role.
Terry's solo trumpet and flugelhorn sound was so distinctive, and his technical ability so advanced, that he could do things and play at tempos that are considered impossible on the trumpet. He is one of a small group of instrumentalists, in any style, who could play one single note, and you know it was Clark Terry. To have been able to perform with Clark, be at his side and hear that sound up close, has been a magical experience for me.Clark was one of the founding fathers of jazz education. Starting in the 1970s, he travelled tirelessly, appearing in concert with dozens of high school and college groups every year, spreading the word about jazz, improvisation, and the level of art that is attainable through hard work and focus.
I am proud to be one of those young students, and I have never stopped being one of his students, to this day.
William Paterson University is so proud to be the site of the Clark Terry Archive, established a decade ago. In that time, the Archive has tripled the size of his collection through the generosity of Terry and Gwen, his wife. The collection includes a new edition of a folio of his music; a new CD featuring Terry and our students; his autobiography, "Clark" (University of California Press), for which I made contributions to the final portion; and, most recently, the award-winning documentary "Keep On Keepin' On" (an account of Terry's mentoring relationship with WP Alum Justin Kauflin, a blind pianist whose career began in our corridors when Terry was on the WP faculty).
Above all—Clark Terry was one of the most kind, giving, and loving human beings I will ever know. His energy was boundless, even with all of the seemingly insurmountable health challenges he faced, including the loss of both legs and ongoing infections due to diabetes. On at least three occasions since we have been working together, he was hospitalized and close to death; a week after returning home and “resting,” he was back on Skype teaching online trumpet lessons and accepting visits from students.
Clark Terry was the closest thing to a living miracle I have ever known. And this miracle will not stop with his death.