Clark Terry's Music--Instrument For Understanding Race Relations

Sunny Nash’s biography of Clark Terry follows the jazz great through a turbulent racial period in U. S. history and shows how he empowered his life by using his horn as an instrument for understanding race relations.
Clark Terry
Clark Terry
Oct. 3, 2010 - PRLog -- Sunny Nash, distinguished scholar and award-winning author of Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s (Texas A&M University Press), wrote biographies of jazz trumpeter, Clark Terry; jazz guitarist, Kenny Burrell; and rhythm and blues singer-songwriter, Ben E. King, for the African American National Biography, a collaboration between the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, Oxford University African American Studies Center and Oxford University Press, edited by Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham.

Nash’s book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, a collection of nonfiction essays about life in the 1950s and ‘60s that resulted from her syndicated Hearst and Knight-Ridder newspaper columns, demonstrates that her background in music, performing experience and knowledge of the historical period of Clark Terry’s life were crucial to interpreting the unique elements of the musician’s rich musical life. Nash was a studio musician and performer in Houston, Chicago, New York and London.

About Clark Terry's life, Nash wrote: Clark Terry, born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1920, has a career that spans more than six decades. When Terry was a young boy, he made his first horn from a garden hose, a funnel and a piece of pipe because there was no money in his family of ten children to purchase a horn.

Recognizing his determination, his neighbors collected $12.50 to buy him a trumpet at a pawnshop. At Vashion High School, he learned to play a bugle in the Tom Powell Drum and Bugle Corps and later learned to play the valve trombone. After graduation, Terry's talent playing the trumpet allowed his budding sound to penetrate the local St. Louis music scene, filled at the time with the blues, a form that was rapidly evolving into another new indigenous American music.

In summer, St. Louis, a hot humid place by the river and freezing in winter, was the intensely creative atmosphere, no matter what the season, that exposed Terry to his first professional taste of swing, bebop and early jazz burning new paths in riverboat pubs, smoky nightclubs, alleys and basements along the Mississippi River in the 1930s and ‘40s.

During World War II, Clark Terry joined the U. S. Navy and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Station (1942-1945), where he joined the Navy Band, gained valuable lessons of discipline, developed his practicing technique from a clarinet book and grasped John Philip Sousa's contributions to U. S. military musical convention.

Upon honorable service discharge and over the next several years, Terry worked with Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Charlie Ventura, George Hudson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington, Ben Webster, Doc Severinsen, Ray Charles, Billy Strayhorn, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Milt Jackson, Bob Brookmeyer, Jon Faddis and Dianne Reeves.

It was with Ellington’s band, though, that Terry became a national musical sensation, and a connoisseur and creator of joyful jazz, with which he intended to lift his own spirits and the spirits of his listeners. Terry's impeccable taste in note selection and musical phrasing made him famous for his delightful treatment of traditional interpretations in his own individual lyrical style.

Terry’s most high-profile position came in 1960 when he was hired by the NBC-TV Orchestra, conducted by Doc Severenson on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, making Terry the first African-American staff musician at NBC. For 12 years, Terry was a hit with his singing invention, ‘Mumbles,’ based on a combination of his slurring and scatting to a jazzy musical groove. In 1972, when The Tonight Show was moving from New York to Los Angeles, Severenson asked his popular trumpeter to move with the NBC Orchestra, but Terry turned down the offer to move and made the difficult decision to leave The Tonight Show and remain in New York where he was in demand as a studio musician and popular performer. Going on to become an international jazz luminary, Terry toured the United States and the world as part of the Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic and became a jazz ambassador for the U. S. State Department in the 1970s.

At some point, Clark Terry began experimenting with the flugelhorn and consulting with industry experts on modifying the construction of the instrument's anatomy to resurrect its fading reputation and to re-introduce it as a jazz instrument. Then Terry made the flugelhorn his principal instrument, a bold and innovative choice that led to double pay when he was booked to play both the flugelhorn and the trumpet on the same show.

Terry performed at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall and Lincoln Center, and toured with the Newport Jazz All Stars, Jazz at the Philharmonic and the New York Pops. He made several recordings with major groups, including the London Symphony Orchestra, Dutch Metropole Orchestra, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Clark Terry's Big Bad Band and Clark Terry's Young Titans of Jazz.

Texts, in which Terry wrote about the trumpet and jazz as a form of music, are used worldwide. Host of Clark Terry Jazz Festivals since 2000, he also directs the Clark Terry International Institute of Jazz Studies at Westmar University, conducts his own Big Band Summer Jazz Camp and advises the International Association of Jazz Educators.

A bronze statue of Clark Terry adorns the St. Louis Walk of Fame along with statues of other musicians, including Chuck Berry, Scott Joplin, Miles Davis, Tina Turner, and hip-hop star, Nelly. Winner of Grammy Awards and a lifetime achievement award by the Recording Academy, Clark Terry was inducted into the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991.

Much of Terry's benevolence in assisting young horn players to obtain instruments may have been born from his own family’s financial inability to purchase an instrument when he was a boy eager to learn to play.

Clark Terry’s biographer, Sunny Nash, author of  Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, also eloquently conveys her own childhood memories of the 1950s and ‘60s and ties the warmth of her family with the sometimes harsh reality of racism in her mid-century existence, while exploring many aspects of American society of the period, including the music industry.

Below the author reads an excerpt from her essay, "The Tutu," from her book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's.

Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash can be purchased at all major bookstores, domestic and international, as well as the Republic of Texas Museum in Austin, operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, whose mission since 1891 has been to preserve Texas’ historic landmarks such as the Alamo in San Antonio and Texas heritage like stories by Sunny Nash.

To buy Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash, follow the Republic of Texas Museum link below:

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About Sunny Nash: Author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, Sunny Nash is an award-winning writer, photographer, producer and public speaker. Her work appears in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford; African American West, A Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, A History of Black Photography 1840 - Present; Ancestry Magazine; Companion to Southern Literature; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways; Southwestern American Literature Journal and other anthologies. Nash is listed in references: The Source: a guidebook to American genealogy; Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony Magazine; Southern Exposure; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and others.

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Tags:Sunny Nash, Race Relations, Clark Terry, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworths, Jazz, Nbc, Johnny Carson
Industry:Music, Books, Society
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Page Updated Last on: Feb 10, 2011
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