Last month I was writing a post for my music page (something else I was going to share with you for the month of March,) but then, the unexpected happened…Clark Terry passed away. So, instead, I decided to write about him and to dedicate all my creative efforts in 2015 to his memory; a way of thanking him for the inspiration, education, and joy he gave to me and thousands of other people around the world.
In terms of inspiration, I am certainly talking about his overall musical inspiration: his incredible trumpet technique; his unique sound; his original compositions; and his mentorship. However, I also include the inspiration he intrinsically exuded as a human being, as a man, as a nurturer, a teacher, as someone who freely shared his knowledge of music and life. He accomplished so many things in his 94-years on earth, and I believe that the energy and love he invested here will live on– through the recordings of his marvelous performances (that we are so lucky to have in this technological age); through the legacy of his compositions (which will forever be played again and again, and be loved, and celebrated, and interpreted by musicians everywhere); and through the love he instilled in the hearts of the many, many, many students, and others, he taught and guided (that kind of love will never die).
I was never able to hear Clark perform on stage, or to personally meet with him, but I have a wonderful memory of his kind words to me (about lyrics I had written for him). This communication was due to his amazing and also incredibly kind wife, Gwen, so I would like to thank her here for that assistance. Their encouragement has been one of the highlights of my musical life and I thank them for that.
In 2012, I was thrilled to be able to volunteer at a fundraising concert for Clark that was organized by the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA). So much love and positive energy were generated that night. The JFA is a fantastic organization and I encourage anyone who would like to express their appreciation of Clark and his legacy consider doing so through a donation via this link. (On Clark’s website it is expressed this way: In lieu of flowers: The family is asking that donations be made to the Jazz Foundation of America which has helped over the years to make sure that Clark’s needs were met. When making donations online that they be noted “In Honor of Clark Terry.”)
Because I live in New York City, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the funeral yesterday at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. During the “Tributes” portion of the program, Dr. David Dempsey spoke about how there is core of people that will carry on Clark’s work. He invited all of us assembled together in that church, everyone celebrating Clark’s life, to say out loud, “Clark Terry Lives!” And so we did just that, it was very powerful, and he truly does.
I close with lyrics I wrote for Clark Terry’s song “One Foot in the Gutter” – not specifically about him, as he had both feet firmly on the pavement, but the overall sentiment is true, his life and music was a blessing to me and to the world.
One Foot in the Gutter
My heart heard heaven;
he was playin’ his sweet trumpet on the sidewalk.
He had one foot in the gutter,
but his soul was free.
His blissful solo
just floated all around him in the darkness,
and each note,
was as clear as can be.
Yet people just kept walking by.
They did not hear a sound.
This earthly angel
was playin’ a simple melody of freedom,
and his song,
was a blessing to me.
©2013 Laurie Early