Funeral For Clark Terry Articulates a Jazz Hero’s Gifts

Outside Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, after the funeral service for Clark Terry/ photo: Wolfram Knauer/Jazzinstitut Darmstadt

The gatherings that follow a renowned jazz musician’s death honor musical greatness we already knew about. They also reaffirm a sense of community we too easily forget.
That community is bound by musical values first and foremost but also by other things, including a sense of shared purpose and common history. The musical greatness in celebration itself generally has to do with far more than talent and charisma, though trumpeter Clark Terry, who died at 94 on Feb. 21, had those qualities in abundance.
What lends these events special power, more so than the solemn beauty of the music played, are the reflections of character, discipline, boldness and compassion, seriousness of mission and lighthearted humor, and the resonant lessons that run through generations and radiate well beyond music.
Such was the case on Saturday, a week past Terry’s death, at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. This funeral, like the man being laid to rest, was hard-hitting yet also serene, elegant but casually disarming, funny despite deep and even hard truths.
Trumpets sounded at both beginning and end. Continue reading “Funeral For Clark Terry Articulates a Jazz Hero’s Gifts”

Remembering Clark Terry

Tomorrow morning—Sat. Feb. 28—at 10am, Manhattan’s Abyssinian Baptist Church will likely be packed, as Reverend Calvin Butts leads a funeral service for Clark Terry. There’ll be top-notch jazz musicians, and those from the many walks of life who were touched by: the sweetness and clarity of Terry’s playing on both trumpet and flugelhorn; his decades of bold work as sideman and bandleader; his pioneering and compassionate work as a musician and educator, and by the casual, natural charm he exuded through careful conversation or just singing nonsense syllables, as he did on the 1964 tune, “Mumbles,” that grew into a signature hit.
Terry, who died at 94 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on Feb. 21, was one of jazz’s formidable talents as well as a memorably uplifting soul.
“He left us peacefully, surrounded by his family, students and friends,” his wife Gwen wrote on his Facebook page Saturday. Her earlier post, after Terry had entered hospice care on Feb. 13, suffering from the effects of advanced diabetes, led to an outpouring of appreciations worth reading here.
During his career, Terry led or co-led more than 80 recording dates and played on more than 900 sessions by the time of his last session in 2004.He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 1991 and was given a lifetime achievement award by the Recording Academy in 2010.
Yet these numbers and honors only scratch the surface of his impact and presence. There has hardly been a figure in jazz that spanned more of the jazz’s musical contexts while performing, nor one more beloved offstage. His accomplishments and demeanor personified his frequently offered mantras to “keep going by keeping going,” and “getting on the plateau of positivity.” Continue reading “Remembering Clark Terry”