Past comes to life through Clark Terry's trumpet
When you hear Clark Terry play, you are listening to the whole history of a culture. Every note, every phrase, every attack, feint and jab...
Seattle Times jazz critic
When you hear Clark Terry play, you are listening to the whole history of a culture.
Every note, every phrase, every attack, feint and jab, has a meaning — and a reason for being.
That's why, even at 84, this trumpet and flugelhorn veteran is still such a treasure.
Terry's quintet plays at Jazz Alley through Sunday ($20.50-$24.50; 206-441-9729).
Terry played with Count Basie and Duke Ellington, then, after going to Europe with the legendary Quincy Jones big band in 1959, became the first African-American musician on the NBC staff. That led to a long stint on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," where Terry's sound and notorious sense of humor became a staple in American living rooms.
Since then, Terry has led his own groups, including the current quintet.
Dressed in a sharp, dark suit and red tie, the bald and bespectacled jazz man sat regally on a stool Tuesday night, legs crossed, eyes full of mischief. Though slowed down by age, he played mostly mid- to up-tempo numbers, and his articulation was remarkably crisp. On flugelhorn, the trumpet's lower and richer cousin, he drew sonic butter.
Terry is a happy player, with a pert, puckish sound that carbonates the air. Using a variety of technical devices — triplet turns out of Mozart, greasy lip-slides that slip surreptitiously between registers and a calliopelike tendency to bounce from high notes to low ones — he has created an immediately recognizable, personal sound.
All of this was on display on a medium-tempo edition of "I Don't Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone But You)," as was an instinct for drama that comes only with years on the bandstand. As Terry made the turnaround into his last chorus, he laid out for a moment, then punched a note so hard it splayed, and the whole band rose up a notch, pulling the train into the station.
"A lot of jazz can't be taught in a classroom," Terry, who recently donated his archive to William Paterson University, said in his dressing room, backstage. "Like a lot of those licks we played back then — they were really little off-color sayings."
Terry sang a familiar lick, then provided the unprintable insult that went with it.
"Jazz wasn't born in church," he added.
Terry has always been generous about passing on such secrets. Back in the '40s, he mentored an eager young Garfield High School student named Quincy Jones.
"Here comes this skinny little kid," he recalled, "who says he's trying to learn to play the trumpet," Terry recalled. "I said, 'But I work at night and sleep during the day, and you go to school during the day and sleep at night.' We eventually agreed he'd come in for a lesson before school, at 5 a.m."
Back on the bandstand, the next generation of jazz was in good hands with Sylvia Cuenca, the hard-hitting, swinging drummer Terry hired one night 15 years ago, after hearing her at the Village Vanguard, in New York. After coaxing the audience into singing along on "Bye Bye Blackbird" (and telling a few bad, shaggy-dog stories) Terry closed the show with an animated Cuenca tune, "Pitter Patter."
Don't miss this set. Terry is a living history of jazz.
Speaking of history, the University of Washington is presenting what could be an informative program at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Triple Door ($20-$75; 206-543-0540). "Charting Change — Jazz and African American Culture," a collaboration between the music and history faculties, features talks and performances by pianist Marc Seales, Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra co-director Michael Brockman and historians Quintard Taylor and Stephanie Camp, among others. Taylor wrote the excellent book "The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle's Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era."
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or email@example.com
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