Trumpeter Clark Terry, a jazz legend who in his seven decades as a musician and bandleader collaborated with artists ranging from Quincy Jones and Duke Ellington to Charles Mingus and Count Basie, passed away Saturday following complications from a long battle with diabetes. He was 94. For his contributions to jazz music, Terry was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
“Our beloved Clark Terry has joined the big band in heaven where he’ll be singing and playing with the angels. He left us peacefully, surrounded by his family, students and friends,” Terry’s wife Gwen wrote on the musician’s official Facebook. “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.” Earlier this year, Terry was placed in hospice care.
The St. Louis-born Terry started his career as a sideman for jazz greats like Count Basie and Duke Ellington before beginning his own stint as bandleader in 1955. As one of the most in-demand musicians in his field, Terry is listed in the credits of over a hundred jazz recordings with styles ranging from scat and swing to bebop and big band. Terry’s collaborations range from playing flugelhorn alongside Thelonious Monk’s piano on 1958’s In Orbit (Terry also featured on Monk’s landmark Brilliant Corners the previous year) to Quincy Jones’ Big Band Bossa Nova in 1960 to the duo he formed with Oscar Peterson in the Seventies.
Non-jazz fans might recognize Terry from his frequent appearances on The Tonight Show as he parlayed his talents into a decade-long gig as a member of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show band. On the program, Terry would perform a handful of his own tracks that featured vocals, including “Mumbles” and his rendition of the jazz standard “Squeeze Me.”
Terry’s contributions to music education were as important as his many recordings and collaborations, as the trumpeter spent years teaching the art of jazz. Most recently, Terry starred in the 2014 documentary Keep On Keepin’ On, which chronicled the then-93-year-old trumpeter mentoring a blind pianist/jazz prodigy named Justin Kaulflin. The film was produced by another of Terry’s pupils, Quincy Jones, and placed on the shortlist for the Best Documentary Academy Award.
In addition to three Grammy nominations and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award, Terry was also named an NEA Jazz Master and inducted into the Downbeat Hall of Fame among countless honors.