What makes Clark Terry more special than dozens of other trumpet and flugelhorn players? Many newcomers to jazz ask that question when listening to Clark's recordings. Rather than provide the answer, I decided to call saxophone legend Hal McKusick last evening for an insider's perspective. Hal first recorded with Clark in 1956 in a big band Quincy Jones assembled for a series of Dinah Washington sessions for Mercury and EmArcy. Hal and Clark have played together in bands and groups ever since.
Here's how Hal put it:
"Clark is special because he plays effortlessly with a beautiful sound—always swinging, always thoughtful and
always playful. It's his attack, his ability to tell a story in such a beautiful way and not repeat himself night after night. What's more, he plays efforlessly in the upper registser as well as the lower register, in both cases with a big, fat sound. [Pictured: Clark Terry and Hal McKusick]
"His approach was to really be with the guys in whatever band he was playing. He plays with you in a supportive way, and he's right there for you. He also has this uncanny way of attracting audiences to what he's doing, largely through his whimsical sense of humor. He's funny, but always modest about himself.
"As a player, Clark doesn't move much. Like Billie Holiday, Clark doesn't have to gyrate to get the sound he wants or to swing and express himself. It all comes out of his horn."
In Part 2 of my two-part conversation with Clark last Friday, the legendary trumpeter and flugelhornist talked about Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Norma Carson and the first time he recorded on the flugelhorn:
JazzWax: What did you think of the music you were playing in Duke Ellington’s band?
Clark Terry: The music was beautiful. It wasn’t easy to play. It was very, very difficult—both from how the music developed and the emotion you had to bring to what you were playing. What’s more, Duke was a taskmaster. He wanted things to be a certain way. So he would rehearse the band over and over.
JW: How did he treat the band?
CT: He was the type of person who liked to surround himself with top-quality talent, and he had complete confidence in them, which gave you confidence. He never gave you a hard time. He just demanded that you do the right thing.
JW: And if someone didn’t?
CT: You’d be replaced [laughs]. I used to call him “maestro.” I loved Duke’s whole book of arrangements. They were beautiful. Strays [Billy Strayhorn, Ellington’s composer-arranger] was fantastic, too. His writing was so touching. And he was a good little piano player. Duke and Strays were very, very close. Strayhorn spent money like crazy, and Duke would cover the cost. Anything he wanted, from trips to clothes. [Photo of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn by Herman Leonard/CTSImages.com]
JW: Did you enjoy recording Cats Vs. Chicks in 1954?
CT: [Laughs] That put a bunch of guys up against female jazz musicians Terry Pollard, Mary Osborne and Norma Carson. I was up against Norma. It’s funny. Before we started recording that song [Anything You Can Do], Norma said to me, “Now Clark, please don’t be hard on me.” But when she started playing, she blew her head off on that thing. Wow, what a player [laughs].
JW: What was the meaning behind Serenade to a Bus Seat in 1957 for Riverside?
CT: It wasn't intended as a tribute to Rosa Parks [who two years earlier had defied Jim Crow laws in Montgomery, Ala., by sitting in the front of a bus, refusing to get up]. At the time, I had a record date to make for Orrin [Keepnews]. First, a photographer was supposed to come over and take my picture for the album. But he never showed up, and I didn’t have time after that. So they just took a picture of my horn on a bus seat and put that on the cover and used the title for the album.
JW: When did you first record on the flugelhorn?
CT: When I was making an album with Billy Taylor [Taylor Made Jazz in 1957]. I had ordered one because I liked the way it sounded. All of the horn players in Jimmie Lunceford’s band had doubled on flugelhorn.
JW: What happened on the Billy Taylor session?
CT: The horn came in a box to my hotel in Chicago. I was in Duke’s band at the time and we had a day off, so I was recording with Billy. When the package arrived, my roommate thought it was something I wanted right away. So he came down to the place where we were recording and brought it into the studio. When I opened the package, the horn looked great. It was a beautiful, gold-plated instrument. I tried it right there on the spot and loved it so much I decided to use it on the date.
JW: You recorded twice with Thelonious Monk, in 1956 and 1958. What was special about him?
CT: Monk was one of those guys who was set in his ways. You either liked him or you didn’t. There was no middle. I’ve always liked people who were unusual or different. Monk knew what he wanted and knew what he was doing. He was respectful, but we didn’t have much to say to each other.
JW: How did you wind up recording with Monk on your album In Orbit in 1958?
CT: I needed a piano player, and producer Orrin Keepnews asked me if I wanted to use Monk. I said, “Great.” So Orrin called him in. After we recorded a bunch of things, we still hadn’t played anything of his.
JW: What happened?
CT: I said, “Monk, I think it’s about time we recorded one of your tunes.” He didn’t answer, so as I walked away he growled, “Come back here.” He said, “Fine, let’s play this.” He started playing the opening notes to Let's Cool One. He said, “You’ll hear it and then we’ll record it. Just listen.” So I listened and then we recorded it. I had never heard that tune before, and there wasn’t any music. We just did it [laughs].
JW: That was some trumpet section on Listen to Art Farmer in 1962—you, Art Farmer, Snooky Young, Ernie Royal, Rolf Ericson, Bernie Glow and Ray Copeland.
CT: Bernie Glow was the man in those days. He practically lived in the recording studios. He was a hell of a trumpet player. And a really nice guy. When I first came to New York, he said to me, “Welcome to New York. I just wish the same thing for you that happened to me.” [Photo of Clark Terry in 1972 by Paul Slaughter]
JW: What did he mean?
CT: I have no idea. I never asked him. He could have meant anything, including a blonde or brunette [laughs].
JW: Your albums with Bob Brookmeyer sound so good. Why?
CT: Oh, I know. I talk to Bob every week. I enjoyed that group as much as any I’ve worked with. I was always partial to the valve trombone. In high school, my teacher gave me one to play when he saw I could play the trumpet. When I heard Bob play it, I mean really, really play it, I fell in love with the sound. We didn’t waste any time getting that group together. The flugelhorn and valve trombone sound nice swinging together.
JW: After all these years, how does it feel to be the greatest living jazz trumpet player?
CT: Oh wow, I don’t know about being the greatest. But I am the oldest [laughs].
JazzWax tracks: Most Duke Ellington albums recorded in the 1950s and 1960s feature Clark Terry on trumpet. One of the finest is And His Mother Called Him Bill (1967). But everyone has a personal favorite. Other Ellingtonian recordings that are exciting and feature a chunk of the band, minus Duke, include Louie Bellson's Just Jazz All Stars (1952) and Billy Taylor's Taylor Made Jazz (1957). Unfortunately, the former isn't in print on CD, but you can find a killer track of the album's Johnny Come Lately here. The latter was released on Fresh Sound, and six copies are here for about $23.
Clark and Thelonious Monk recorded Bemsha Swing with Sonny Rollins on Monk's Brilliant Corners (Riverside), an early morning session. Clark and Monk also appear on Clark Terry: In Orbit (1958) at iTunes or here. Serenade to a Bus Seat (1957), a fiery album, also is still in print and has been remastered.
Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer recorded together on about two-dozen large-ensemble albums. Their quintet sessions included Tonight (1964), The Power of Positive Swinging (1965) and Gingerbread Man (1966). The second album is the only one available on CD or as a download. Or you can buy Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer Quintet Complete Studio Recordings (LoneHill) here.
Two offbeat Clark Terry tracks that are notable are Anything You Can Do, featuring male jazz stars pitted against female artists. It's at iTunes on a terrific album called Clark Terry (EmArcy). Cats v. Chicks is also available here or at Amazon.
And be sure to dig Clark in a Latin mood on Que Sera from Spanish Rice (1966), featuring Clark playing arrangements by Chico O'Farrill. Clark is joined in the trumpet section by Snooky Young, Joe Newman and Ernie Royal.
A JazzWax thanks to David Langner.
JazzWax clips: Here's Clark playing Pie Eye (the clip's spelling is incorrect) at Club Saint-Germain in Paris in 1959. That's Clark on flugelhorn, Bud Powell (piano), Pierre Michelot (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums)...
Here's Clark featured with the Quincy Jones' big band in 1960 on Moanin'...