In Memoriam: Clark Terry

Legendary jazz trumpeter Clark Terry passed away on Saturday at the age of 94. UC Press published his autobiography, Clark, in November 2011. His editor, Mary Francis, shares what it was like to work with Clark and what she’ll miss about him.

I remember when I first heard through the grapevine that the great jazz trumpeter Clark Terry had written an autobiography. I was eager to get a look at the manuscript—I knew that his life was packed with notable milestones, stellar collaborations, and just plain great jazz.

I picked up the phone and the minute Clark’s wife Gwen Terry answered a rewarding collaboration began. Gwen was ready to jump in feet first, and working with her and Clark to shape the manuscript was such a pleasure. Clark Terry was every bit as gifted as a raconteur as he was a musician. His autobiography has a great dramatic arc, starting with Clark’s passionate boyhood interest in music, playing a horn made from junk parts, and following the years of hard work on the road that helped make his name. The manuscript wasn’t just event-filled and engaging and funny: there was a distinctive voice, something of the sly, nimble character that you hear in Clark Terry’s singing was there on the page, and it was a delight to read. Clark could tell a crackerjack yarn, but underneath the sparkle of his humor, the determination that drove his rise in the world of jazz was evident on every page.

But his determination wasn’t only about making his way to the top of the professional heap. Clark’s generosity, his desire to help others was just as evident, most notably in how he helped younger musicians. His patience and persistence as a teacher was clear: not letting students off the hook when he sensed they had more to reach for, more to accomplish, but also offering them something of himself, a guide and an example as he pushed them to find their own distinct musical voice. You can see this in action in the documentary about Clark, Keep On Keepin’ On, where his pleasure in passing on musical knowledge to younger musicians is front and center.

Clark’s joie de vivre (I’ll never forget that raspy laugh) made it a privilege and a pleasure to work with him. We’re all proud to have worked with him and Gwen to bring his story to the world, and we’ll miss him.

—Mary Francis, Executive Editor

Learn more about Clark Terry at his website, clarkterry.com.

Watch Clark Terry’s Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech.