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Clark Terry's career in jazz spans more than sixty years. He is a world-class trumpeter, flugelhornist, educator, and NEA Jazz Master. He performed for seven U.S. Presidents, and was a Jazz Ambassador for State Department tours in the Middle East and Africa. More than fifty jazz festivals in all seven continents still feature him. He received two Grammy certificates, three Grammy nominations, thirteen honorary doctorates, keys to cities, lifetime achievements and halls of fame awards. He was knighted in Germany and is the recipient of the French Order of Arts and Letters. Clark's star on the Walk of Fame, and his Black World History Museum's life-sized wax figure can both be visited in his hometown, St. Louis, Missouri. His breakthrough job was with Duke Ellington, with whom he worked from 1951-1959. 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. After working with Quincy Jones in '59, he found steady work as a freelance studio artist in New York City, becoming the first black musician on the NBC payroll.
For a dozen years he was featured in the Doc Severinsen band, which played on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show. During this time, Clark worked and recorded with artists like J.J. Johnson, Oscar Peterson, and Ella Fitzgerald, then co-led a quintet with Bob Brookmeyer that achieved some popularity in the early 1960s. When the Tonight Show moved west to Los Angeles, Clark made the decision to remain in New York to pursue a busy schedule as a studio musician and as a jazz star in demand not only in the States, but throughout the world. He also became part of Norman Granz traveling all-stars Jazz at the Philharmonic, and began playing flugelhorn, eventually making this his principal instrument.
The 70s and 80s found him touring extensively, playing concerts, clubs and festivals around the world, usually as leader but ably blending in with almost any background from late swing style to post-bop. Terry's remarkable technical accomplishment has never overwhelmed the depth of emotion that imbues his playing, and neither of these characteristics has ever dampened his infectious humor. This quality is most readily apparent on his singing of "Mumbles", for which he created a unique variation on scat. His duets with himself, during which he plays flugelhorn and trumpet, are remarkable displays of his astonishing skills yet never degenerate into mere bravura exercises. Terry remained a major figure in the history of jazz trumpet into the beginning of the new century, after a lifetime as one of the music's most respected and widely admired ambassadors. Clark composed more than two hundred jazz songs, and his books include Let's Talk Trumpet: From Legit to Jazz, Interpretation of the Jazz Language and Clark Terry's System of Circular Breathing for Woodwind and Brass Instruments. He recorded with The London Symphony Orchestra, The Dutch Metropole Orchestra, The Duke Ellington Orchestra and The Chicago Jazz Orchestra, at least thirty high school and college ensembles, his own duos, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, octets, and two big bands -- Clark Terry's Big Bad Band and Clark Terry's Young Titans of Jazz. His career as both leader and sideman with more than three hundred recordings demonstrates that he is one of the luminaries in jazz.