Trumpeter Clark Terry grew up in St. Louis, when young musicians were educated by older ones.
“But the old-timers were reluctant to share,” the former Ellington and Basie trumpeter said in an interview this week. “It was a threat to their security; they were afraid of the young musicians coming up.”
One “old dude,” as Terry described him, agreed to help the younger man improve his tone in the lower registers.
“He told me to stand in front of the mirror at home and wiggle my left ear in time with the music.”
Doing so didn’t help his tone, but he did learn to wiggle his left ear.
“When people saw me play, they would say, `Did you see that kid wiggle his ear?”’
Terry swears this is a true story. But then, after a career that spans nearly 60 years and includes stints with the two greatest big bands - the Ellington and Basie orchestras - as well as a starring role in the “Tonight Show” orchestra, Terry has a few stories to tell.
That’s why it’s important, he says, to spend the last years of his career teaching young musicians properly - no ear wiggling in front of the mirror.
“I do a lot of jobs with schools,” said Terry, who will appear here Saturday at the daylong Spokane Falls Community College Jazzfest.
“There are a lot of youngsters who can appreciate what the old-timers have gone through. Plus, it’s my way of staying involved.”
Terry keeps a quartet going - he works with either a quartet or a quintet whenever the occasion arises - but he has always been an educator.
“He is a busy man, but he always finds time to help the college bands around the country,” said none other than Duke Ellington.
“I am sure many a youngster has been inspired by him as both a man and as a musician.”
Count Miles Davis and Quincy Jones in that group.
“He became my idol on the instrument,” Davis said. “I learned a lot from listening to him play the trumpet.”
Among other things, Davis learned his beautiful, muted style from Terry.
Unlike the guarded Davis, though, Terry is a gregarious showman who will trade fours with himself, playing one phrase on his trumpet, the next on his fluegelhorn.
His “mumbles” scat routine made him a pop music star of sorts.
“People want to have fun when they go out to hear music; they want to be entertained,” he says. “Sometimes there’s too much seriousness in the music.”
Terry views the jazz world from his vantage point and pronounces it healthier than ever.
“There are more things going on today. One of the things is the perpetuation of jazz through institutions of learning; there are millions of places where kids can learn about jazz.
“That’s not the way it was when I was young. We had to meet in alleys. It was hush-hush.”
Now, when he teaches, he said, “I hope to instill in the minds of these kids that they cannot accept mediocrity, they cannot become complacent.”
Joining Terry Saturday at SFCC will be George Robert. Robert is a Swiss-born alto player who apprenticed with Phil Woods and who has teamed with Terry on many occasions, including featuring the older man in his well-received George Robert Quartet.
During the day, Terry and Robert will perform clinics and appearances for the student bands that will be attending the festival from around the region.
Saturday evening, they will be joined by pianist/composer Frank Mantooth, trombonist David Glenn and the SFCC Jazz Ensemble for a festival-closing concert.
MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with th story: The SFCC Jazz Fest Concert Location and time: SFCC Music Building Auditorium, Saturday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $12, $10 for students, at Street Music, Hoffman’s Music and G&B;
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