Clark Terry: Trumpeter and teacher who played with Ellington and Basie and mentored Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis

The legendary jazz trumpeter enjoyed a career of more than seven decades

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Clark Terry was a legendary jazz trumpeter who mentored Miles Davis and Quincy Jones and played with both Count Basie and Duke Ellington and on The Tonight Show. "The world has lost one of the greatest trumpeters to ever grace the planet," Jones wrote. "Clark Terry was my first trumpet teacher as a teen in Seattle, my idol, and my brother. When he left the Basie and Ellington bands, also two of my idols, to join mine, it was one of the most humbling moments in my life." Jones honoured his mentor by co-producing last year's documentary Keep on Keepin' On, which focused on the relationship between Terry and his young protégé, the blind pianist Justin Kauflin.

During a career of more than seven decades, Terry was a mentor to generations of jazz musicians, starting with Miles Davis, who first met him as a teenager growing up in East St Louis, Illinois, across the river from Terry's home town. Born in St Louis in 1920, Terry displayed his passion for music as a child, fashioning a makeshift trumpet by attaching a funnel to a discarded garden hose with a lead pipe for a mouthpiece. Neighbours were so upset by the noise that they chipped in to buy him his first trumpet from a pawn shop; his earliest inspiration was Louis Armstrong.

After serving in the Navy during the War, Terry worked in a number of bands before joining the Count Basie Orchestra in 1948. Three years later he joined Duke Ellington's band, an experience he referred to as attending "the University of Ellingtonia." During his 1951-59 stint he also began playing the rounder-toned flugelhorn, helping to popularise it.

In 1960, he became the first African-American musician hired as a staff musician at NBC and joined the house band on The Tonight Show, where he played for nearly a decade. He became known for his scat singing on the show, and his routines led to "Mumbles", a 1964 recording with the Oscar Peterson Trio that became his signature song. He was a sideman or leader on more than 900 recordings, including sessions with Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie.

Terry also led his own small oufits, including a quintet with the trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, and a big band that performed on US State Department-sponsored tours abroad from 1978-81. He was a firm champion of jazz education, teaching in schools and at camps, clinics and festivals, also writing instruction books. He received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2010 and continued to make occasional club appearances into his eighties, although his diabetes forced him to curtail touring.

The esteem his fellow musicians felt for Terry was reflected in December when the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis took a detour to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, during a day off on their tour to play an impromptu concert for Terry at his hospital.


Clark Terry, musician: born 14 December 1920; died 21 February 2015.