Jazzman of the Year: Clark Terry

Many Happy Returns

I've looked up the 1964 sessions. First you made The Happy Horns, on Impulse, a strutting sextet with Ben Webster and Phil Woods that included Bob Hammer's mini-suite arrangement of Bix's "In a Mist." Then came Oscar Peterson Trio—One Clark Terry, for Mercury, on which you debuted (spontaneously, at session's end) the Mumbles routine you had tested in clubs, and proved with a particular decisiveness—the theme statement on "Brotherhood of Man" alone would have done the trick—that you didn't sound like anyone else ever. Finally, there was Tonight, the long-delayed album by the quintet, a perfect blend of Brookmeyer's light-gutbucket writing and your elfin, soaring variations. "Tete a Tete" has a quintessential rollicking CT solo, much as "Pretty Girl" opens with an archetypal ballad figure and "Hum" ends with a patented chortle. Your attack was so unambiguously original that the tunes echo it; Roger Kellaway may have written "Step Right Up," but with your phrasing how could it sound like anything but Clark Terry? The same is no less true of Parker's "The Hymn" and Monk's "Straight No Chaser," to which you guys added a rather pointed tremolo. I get chills listening to your "Battle Hymn of the Republic" solo, on the quintet's second album—and, come to think of it, dizzy just thinking about the 1975 "Shaw Nuff" duet with Oscar, which must have set some kind of speed record.

Maybe nothing you've done was more quixotically impressive than leaving Tonight in 1972 to launch your own Big B-A-D Band—an 18-piece, mostly all-star orchestra, which, it occurs to me now, may have offered Jimmy Heath his first opportunity to record his big band arrangements in a book that also included such durable charts as Phil Woods's treatment of "Nefertiti." It's hard to believe that you toured with a band that had such talent as Duke Jordan on piano, and a reed section with Heath, Woods, Arnie Lawrence, Ernie Wilkins, and Charles Davis. Yet given your nerve, who could say no?

Clark, this has been another baleful year for jazz, with almost every week bringing news of another passing. And this is the season when we'll remember Peggy Lee, Walter Bolden, Wendell Marshall, Nick Brignola, Conte Candoli, Remo Palmier, Oliver Johnson, Shirley Scott, John Patton, Eileen Farrell, Buster Brown, Otis Blackwell, Truck Parham, Matt Dennis, Curtis Amy, Russ Freeman, Nellie Monk, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Brown, Alan Lomax, Seymour Solomon, Edmund Anderson, Jimmy Maxwell, Phyllis Litoff, Roy Krall, Daphne Hellman, Idrees Sulieman, Larry Rivers, Lionel Hampton, Dodo Marmarosa, Peter Kowald, Ellis Larkins, Turk Van Lake, Eileen Southern, John S. Wilson, Adolph Green, Tom Dowd, Roland Hanna, Nancie Banks, Hadda Brooks, Mal Waldron, Bob Berg, Arvell Shaw, and many others.

So my wish for you on this birthday and every one to follow is good health, good chops, and a full dose of the joy you have given the rest of us all these years. In the preceding century, jazz used to proclaim a succession of trumpet players as king. Right now, that's you—may your reign continue to flourish.

Warmest regards.

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