WBGO Blog
  • Clark Terry, Ebullient Jazz Trumpeter, Has Died

    February 22, 2015

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    Clark Terry wasn't just a trumpeter with flawless technique; he was also, according to one peer, a "natural-born educator" who devoted much of his later career to passing on his immense musical knowledge. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    Jazz trumpeter Clark Terry has died. The musician's ebullient personality reached a nationwide audience as a member of NBC's Tonight Show band, and the sound of his expressive trumpet inspired younger musicians for nearly eight decades. The 94-year-old musician died Saturday.

    Clark Terry said he heard the sound of jazz everywhere as a kid in St. Louis in the 1930s: on the radio, in parades and wafting in from river boats floating along the Mississippi River.

    He came up with his own sound in a junkyard with a homemade trumpet. In 1995, he described it on the NPR program Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center.

    "I made it from an old discarded garden hose — I had it bound up like a trumpet, with an old piece of kerosene funnel, made it look like a bell," he said, laughing. "Then I put a piece of old lead pipe on the end, that was my mouthpiece. I couldn't make any music with it but I sure made a lot of noise with it!"

    He said when his neighbors couldn't stand the racket any longer, they pitched in and bought him a real trumpet.

    Eventually, Clark Terry learned to play jazz on the bandstand. In 1948, after a stint in the U.S. Navy, Terry hit the big time with the Count Basie Orchestra. Terry said the music education that started under the watchful eyes of older musicians back in St. Louis continued with Basie.

    "His most important thing he gave to all of us was the utilization of space and time," Terry said. "He became famous not so much for the notes he played as for the notes he didn't."

    After three years with Basie, Terry found himself playing with the bandleader who inspired him to make that childhood junkyard trumpet: Duke Ellington.

    Terry spent the late 1940s and most of the '50s crisscrossing the country with Basie and Ellington. But when they went through the South there was another passenger traveling with them: Jim Crow.

    Trumpeter Jimmy Owens is a generation younger than his friend and mentor Clark Terry, but he says he's heard Terry's stories.

    "When we see someone like Clark Terry and is so happy, so elated at what he is performing, not knowing what he went through, it's just amazing," Owens says.

    Clark Terry broke through a color line in the music business in the early 1960s. When the National Urban League lobbied the NBC network to hire black musicians for its orchestra, the white players in the Tonight Show band recommended Clark Terry.

    His occasional spotlight in front of a nationwide audience included his character Mumbles, a recording studio gag that was his sendup of some of the blues vocalists he played with back in St. Louis.

    Behind the humor was a jazz musician admired by his peers for his flawless technique, his crystal clear tone and musical ideas that reached all the way back to the jazz he heard as a kid.

    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."

    "He knew how to answer that question to not only give the answer to that question but give you further information about a situation," Owens says.

    With Clark Terry's passing, the living history he shared through his playing and his teaching is now just history.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • How To Turn A One-Man Band Into A 10-Piece Orchestra

    February 19, 2015

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    Henry Butler (left) and Steven Bernstein. (Image Credit: NPR)

    When trumpeter and composer/arranger Steven Bernstein first met the virtuoso pianist Henry Butler, he says he was floored. "This is it," he recalls thinking. "This is like the music that I always imagined. Everything you ever loved about music, all being in one place, but now it's all coming from one person." Decades later, when they two finally began to work together, Bernstein started to study Butler's playing — and realized there were more than a few licks that set Butler apart.

    Now that Butler and Bernstein co-lead a band called the Hot 9, they break down just how they built an ensemble around one man's signature style.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .

  • Christian McBride On 'A Love Supreme' And Its Descendants

    February 18, 2015

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    John Coltrane during the recording of A Love Supreme in December 1964. (Image Credit: Chuck Stewart/Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History)

    Christian McBride remembers very well the first time he heard A Love Supreme, the John Coltrane classic that turns 50 this month. The bassist, composer and host of NPR's Jazz Night in America was in high school in Philadelphia, and had grown friendly with the staff at record store he passed on his daily commute. One day he pulled the album from the bins and asked a clerk if he should buy it — to which the clerk replied, "I'm not quite sure you're ready for this yet."

    "That made me want it more," McBride says. "I was familiar with sound of the quartet, the legendary quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums — but when I heard A Love Supreme, I got it. Not because the music was any more challenging than I had heard on records like Live at Birdland or Crescent. You could just tell that this was the quartet at its apex — that they were at a peak, and that coupled with Coltrane's spiritual discovery, music being put to that. It's a gospel album in many ways."

    Speaking with NPR's Audie Cornish, McBride invoked the names of two contemporary pianists, Eric Reed and Marcus Roberts, and explained how their work demonstrates a similar connection to gospel and reverence for music history. Hear the full conversation at the audio link.

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.