is an American swing and bop trumpeter, a pioneer of the flugelhorn in jazz, educator, NEA Jazz Masters inductee, and recipient of the 2010 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Only four other trumpet players in history have ever received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award: Louis Armstrong (Clark's old mentor), Miles Davis (whom Clark mentored), Dizzy Gillespie (who often described Clark as the greatest jazz trumpet player on earth) and Benny Carter. Clark Terry is one of the most prolific jazz musicians in history, having appeared on 905 known recording sessions, which makes him the most recorded trumpet player of all time. In comparison, Louis Armstrong performed on 620 sessions, Harry "Sweets" Edison on 563, and Dizzy Gillespie on 501.
He has played with Charlie Barnet (1947), Count Basie (1948–1951), Duke Ellington (1951–1959) and Quincy Jones (1960), and has recorded regularly both as a leader and sideman. In all, his career in jazz spans more than seventy years.
Terry's years with Basie and Ellington in the late 1940s and 1950s established him as a world-class jazz artist. Blending the St. Louis tone with contemporary styles, Terry’s sound influenced a generation. During this period, he took part in many of Ellington's suites and acquired a reputation for his wide range of styles (from swing to hard bop), technical proficiency, and good humor. Terry exerted a positive influence on musicians like Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, both of whom acknowledge Clark's influence during the early stages of their careers. Terry had informally taught Davis while they were still in St Louis.
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 for ten years on The Tonight Show as a member of The Tonight Show Band, first led by Skitch Henderson and later by Doc Severinsen, where his unique "mumbling" scat singing became famous when he scored a hit with "Mumbles." A persistent rumor is that Terry was a candidate to lead the band, but for racial skittishness on the part of NBC.
Terry continued to play with musicians such as J. J. Johnson and Oscar Peterson, and led a group with Bob Brookmeyer that achieved popularity in the early 1960s. In the 1970s, Terry concentrated increasingly on the flugelhorn, which he plays with 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 about 1970). After financial difficulties forced him to break up the Big B-A-D Band, he performed bands such as the Unifour Jazz Ensemble. His humor and command of jazz trumpet styles are apparent in his "dialogues" with himself, on different instruments or on the same instrument, muted and unmuted. He has occasionally performed solos on a trumpet or flugelhorn mouthpiece.
From the 1970s through the 1990s, Clark performed at Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, and Lincoln Center, toured with the Newport Jazz All Stars and Jazz at the Philharmonic, and he was featured with Skitch Henderson's New York Pops Orchestra. In 1998, Terry recorded George Gershwin's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" for the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot + Rhapsody, a tribute to George Gershwin, which raised money for various charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease. In 2001, he again recorded for the Red Hot Organization with artist Amel Larrieux for the compilation album Red Hot + Indigo, a tribute to Duke Ellington.
Prompted early in his career by Dr. Billy Taylor, Clark and Milt Hinton bought instruments for and gave instruction to young hopefuls which planted the seed that became Jazz Mobile in Harlem. This venture tugged at Clark's greatest love: involving youth in the perpetuation of jazz. Between global performances, Clark continues to share wholeheartedly his jazz expertise and encourage students, including up-and-coming young jazz trumpeter, Josh Shpak. Since 2000, Clark has hosted 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.
He also has several recordings with major groups including the London Symphony Orchestra, the Dutch Metropole Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, hundreds of 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, with the likes of Branford Marsalis, Conrad Herwig, Brad Leali, Stephen Guerra, Adam Schroeder, Frank Greene and Tony Lujan. The Clark Terry Archive at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, contains instruments, tour posters, awards, original copies of over 70 big band arrangements, recordings and other memorabilia.
Terry was a long-time resident of Bayside, Queens, and Corona, Queens, New York. He and his wife, Gwen, later moved to Haworth, New Jersey. They currently reside in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.