One of the best things about my work is that I get to meet, talk with and even hang out with some of the greatest musicians of all time. I’ve found that the artists who leave indelible impressions are the ones for whom the playing of music is a practice of spirituality.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have made that spiritual connection with some of the giants who took the time to share a bit of their world with me, and who live in my heart. And then, there’s Clark Terry.
Many of us who are “of a certain age” will remember the treat of being allowed to stay up late, watching Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and seeing Clark Terry featured with the band. What we probably didn’t know is that Clark was the first black musician to be hired as a staff musician on a major TV network. By the time that happened, he’d already had a very successful career that included working with Duke Ellington as well as the Count Basie band. By then, Quincy Jones, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie had all said “Clark Terry, he’s the guy. He’s the best.”
Clark had also discovered what he considered his true calling of music educator. He’d seen the formalization of jazz study, the academic side, and thought something was missing. That something was the type of one-on-one mentoring that was the way jazz had traditionally been passed down. It was something he was very good at. Thousands of his students will tell you that Clark had a way of believing in you that made you believe in yourself. That was his genius, and it all came from his love of people and music.
The brief time I spent with Clark Terry in 1980 doing an interview for radio is a treasured memory that has inspired me for decades. I still feel that connection. And I know that everyone who ever met him feels it, too.
Thank you, Clark, for your music, your humor, your spirit and your great big heart.
Clark Terry died February 21, 2015. He was 94.