Sunday, February 22, 2015

Navy Musician, Jazz Great Clark Terry RIP

by Bill Doughty

Clark Terry, like John Coltrane, was one of the greatest and most well-known musicians to serve in a U.S. Navy Band.

Terry died yesterday and is remembered for his joy, passion and willingness to teach others.

In 1942, Clark Terry Joined the U.S. Navy after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized recruitment of 5,000 musicians during World War II.

Terry was part of the Great Lakes Band.

"From 1942 to 1945, the Great Lakes Band became a stew pot for up and coming jazzmen," according to
Clark Terry and Quincy Jones.
After the war, Terry continued to play music with some of America's great jazz musicians and bandleaders, including Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Both Miles Davis and Quincy Jones said they were influenced by Terry.

According to Mark C. Gridley, author of "Jazz Styles: History and Analysis":
"One of the first Ellington sidemen to show the influence of modern jazz, Terry invented a unique style that bridged the gap between the swing era approaches and the new bop style of Dizzy Gillespie. He displayed seemingly effortless command over his horn, no matter how fast or intricate a figure he chose to improvise. He had a talkative, swinging style that is easy to recognize. It spontaneously unfolded catchy melodic lines and conveyed an enthusiasm that seemed to bubble through every note."
Gridley notes that Clark Terry helped popularize the flugelhorn, "a kind of oversized cornet." According to Gridley, "No other brass player sounds like Clark Terry."

Thirteen years ago, Feb. 28, 2002, Terry appeared, along with Gerald Wilson, during a Black History commemoration at Naval Station Great Lakes.

Judy Lazarus, a public affairs specialist at Great Lakes, reported: "Twenty-two of the original musicians, who served in the years between 1942 and 1945, and family members, attended the event presented in conjunction with Black History Month."

Rear Adm. Ann Rondeau, commander of Naval Service Training Command, who presented Navy ballcaps to the honored guests and said, "What a great way to celebrate our Navy and our nation. These are great artists who all began like us – as Sailors." Rondeau said. "Thanks for what you have done for our country." 

Clark Terry, who had not been back to Great Lakes since the 1940s, said, "It was fantastic being here (playing with the Navy Band). "It was great playing with this band."

Serving as a Navy musician was an opportunity, Terry noted. Because of the war FDR created more opportunities for African Americans in ratings other than just mess attendants. "Instead of coming in as cooks, we could come in as yeoman and other ratings. It was all open," Terry said.

"I had a chance to indulge in camaraderie with so many beautiful musicians who had mastered their craft. I was a 22 year-old and had a chance to hobnob with great guys. There was a lot of jamming going on, and it was an opportunity to learn a lot, to interpret the jazz language."

Felix Contreras of NPR reported today that, "He devoted the last part of his career to sharing his immense knowledge through jazz education in colleges and universities. Trumpeter Jimmy Owens says jazz has lost a direct link to its earliest history — and a 'natural-born educator.'"

Terry's website features an announcement by his wife, Gwen Terry, that says, in part: 
"Clark has known and played with so many amazing people in his life. He has found great joy in his friendships and his greatest passion was spending time with his students. We will miss him every minute of every day, but he will live on through the beautiful music and positivity that he gave to the world. Clark will live in our hearts forever. With all my love, Gwen Terry."  
Ms. Terry invites anyone whose life was touched by Clark Terry to share their story at the site's guest book or on Clark Terry's Facebook page. Click to hear some great Clark Terry music.

[Photo at top – Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill. (Feb. 28th, 2002) -- Legendary Jazz Trumpeter Mr. Clark Terry, plays alongside the Great Lakes Navy Band Jazz Ensemble during a special concert Great Lakes Experience. Terry played in the all-star Navy band at Great Lakes from 1941 to 1945, and was one of the first black Navy musicians.  Approximately 20 other former African American Navy musicians, including Great Lake alumni, and guest conductor Gerald Wilson, were recognized for their dedicated service during the concert. U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 1st Class Michael Worner.]

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