November 2015

Icon: Clark Terry

Learning about Clark Terry’s impact on the world of jazz as a pioneer of the flugelhorn.

National Standards: 1, 2, 3, 7

Prepare: Have the class read Icon: Clark Terry (page 16 of the student edition). The article gives the history on Clark Terry, the jazz musician and educator known for his pioneering of the jazz flugelhorn.

Key points in the article:

  • Born into poverty, Clark Terry’s determination to play the trumpet led to him landing gigs after high school and playing in the bands of Charlie Barnet and Lionel Hampton.
  • He was soon recruited by Count Basie, and played with him for a few years before being recruited for the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
  • Eight years later, Terry was invited to join NBC’s The Tonight Show band. The decade brought him great success in both recording and performing.
  • Later in his career, Terry discovered a passion for jazz education. He formed youth big bands, gave clinics across the United States, and became an adjunct professor at William Patterson University in New Jersey before retiring.

Begin: Compare and contrast the start of Terry’s career to the end. Topics may include:

  • His early goals focused on getting ahead as a performer
  • His mid-career enjoyed a height of activity
  • His late career turned towards educating and mentoring young performers

Develop: Play a few minutes of the following video of Terry performing “Satin Doll” on the trumpet with his quartet in 1985. You can skip to his solo at 3:12:

Then play this video of Terry playing the flugelhorn on “Take the A Train” with the Clark Terry Big Bad Band in 1981:

How does his playing on the flugelhorn compare to his playing on the trumpet?

  • The tone is softer on the flugelhorn
  • The technique and phrasing is similar between the two instruments
  • With the harmon mute, the trumpet produces a thinner tone

Expand: Have students take a short quiz on Clark Terry, found here.

Answer Key

Note: Answers appear in random order. Correct answers are below, in bold.

1. What was Clark Terry’s very first “instrument”?
-A rubber hose
-A trumpet
-A clarinet
-A flugelhorn

Message with correct answer:
The very first instrument Terry played was a rubber hose he found at the junkyard, and twisted into the shape of a trumpet.

2. Before he began playing in professional big bands, some of Terry’s first gigs included:
There are two correct answers.
-Playing in the navy
-Playing in a touring carnival band

-Playing in a game show band
-Playing in a symphony orchestra

Message with correct answers:
Terry’s first gigs out of high school were with a touring carnival. He later joined the navy as a bandsman, one of the first 5,000 African-Americans to serve in a rank above laborer.

3. Terry’s first big break was with the Count Basie Orchestra. He was then hired by one of the most famous bandleaders of the day:
-Duke Ellington
-Stan Kenton
-Dizzy Gillespie
-Bing Crosby

Message with correct answer:
Terry had been inspired by Duke Ellington’s music since hearing it on the radio as a child. He stayed with the band for eight years.

4. How did Terry obtain his first flugelhorn?
-He borrowed and eventually kept one lent to him by another band member
-He developed a custom model with an instrument manufacturer
-He was gifted one by his family
-He came across it in a pawn shop in New York City

Message with correct answer:
Working with Selmer instrument manufacturers, Terry developed his own custom model, which later inspired a product line.

5. The next step in Terry’s career was becoming a member of NBC’s The Tonight Show live band. What was especially significant about his joining?
-He was the first African-American to do so
-He had been banned by another major TV network
-He was the youngest member ever to be hired
-He was personally invited with a telegram from host Jack Paar

Message with correct answer:
At the time, there weren’t many African-Americans on major television networks, which made Terry’s presence in the band all the more influential.

6. The ’60s became an extremely active decade for Terry as both a performer and recording artists. He also had groups of his own, including:
There are two correct answers to this question.
-A quintet with valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer
-His own big band

-An innovative percussion ensemble with Max Roach
-An all brass instrument ensemble

Message with the correct answer:
Terry had long dreamed of forming his own big band, which he was finally able to build from his growing influence and extensive network.

7. While playing the classic Tonight Show game with the audience, “Stump the Band,” Terry invented a style of improvising nonsensical words, later dubbed:
-“Mumbles”
-“Babbles”
-“I Forgot the Words”
-“Stutter”

Message with correct answer:
Later recorded with the Oscar Peterson Trio, “Mumbles” became one of Terry’s most popular hits.

8. After the high point of the ’60s, Terry shifted his focus from performing to:
-Education
-Composing
-Conducting
-History

Message with correct answer:
Terry traveled to schools across the country giving lectures and clinics, and performing with students. He formed youth big bands, became a professor at William Patterson University, and mentored young musicians until he died in early 2015.