Clark Terry was born in St. Louis, Missouri on December 14th, 1920. He attended Vashon High School there and began his professional career in the early 1940s by playing in local clubs before joining a Navy band during World War II. Afterwards, he played with Charlie Barnet, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Quincy Jones. He also performed and recorded regularly both as a leader and sideman. In all, his career in jazz spans more than sixty years.
His years with Basie and Ellington in the late 1940s and 1950s established him as a world-class jazz artist. Blending the St. Louis tone of his youth with contemporary styles, Terry’s sound influenced a generation. During this period, Terry took part in many of Ellington's suites and acquired a lasting reputation for his wide range of styles (from swing to hard bop), technical proficiency, and infectious good humor. In addition to his outstanding musical contribution to these bands, Terry exerted a positive influence on musicians such as Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, both of whom credit Clark as a formidable influence during the early stages of their careers.
After leaving Ellington, Clark's international recognition soared when he accepted an offer from the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) to become its first African-American staff musician. He appeared regularly for ten years on The Tonight Show sitting in with the Tonight Show Band led by Doc Severinsen, where his unique "mumbling" scat singing became famous when he scored a hit as a singer with "Mumbles."
He also continued to play jazz with musicians such as J. J. Johnson and Oscar Peterson, and led a group with Bob Brookmeyer that achieved some popularity in the early 1960s. In the 1970s, Terry began to concentrate increasingly on the flugelhorn, from which he obtains a full, ringing tone. In addition to his studio work and teaching at jazz workshops, Terry toured regularly in the 1980s with small groups (including Peterson's) and performed as the leader of his Big B-A-D Band (formed c 1970). After financial difficulties forced him to break up BBB, he performed with big bands like the Unifour Jazz Ensemble and others. His humor and command of jazz trumpet styles are apparent in his "dialogues" with himself, either on different instruments or on the same instrument, muted and unmuted.
Some venues Clark performed are Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, and Lincoln Center; tours are the Newport Jazz All Stars and Jazz at the Philharmonic, and he was featured with Skitch Henderson's New York Pops Orchestra.
Clark wholeheartedly shares his jazz expertise and encourages students. Has began hosting the
Clark Terry Jazz Festivals on land and sea, held his own jazz camps, and appeared in more than fifty jazz festivals on six continents.His career as both leader and sideman with more than three hundred recordings demonstrates that he is one of the most prolific luminaries in jazz. Clark composed more than two hundred jazz songs and performed for seven U.S. Presidents.