Clark: The Book

The Autobiography of Clark Terry

Compelling from cover to cover, this is the story of one of the most recorded and beloved jazz trumpeters of all time. With unsparing honesty and a superb eye for detail, Clark Terry, born in 1920, takes us from his impoverished childhood in St. Louis, Missouri, where jazz could be heard everywhere, to the smoke-filled small clubs and carnivals across the Jim Crow South where he got his start, and on to worldwide acclaim. Terry takes us behind the scenes of jazz history as he introduces scores of legendary greats–Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington, Doc Severinsen, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, and Dianne Reeves, among many others. Terry also reveals much about his own personal life, his experiences with racism, how he helped break the color barrier in 1960 when he joined the Tonight Show band on NBC, and why–at ninety years old–his students from around the world still call and visit him for lessons.

“Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry” is now also available as an eBook for Kindle, Nook and other ‘ePub’-compatible e-readers.

Listen to Dianne Reeves singing to Clark how she feels about the book.


“[Clark Terry has] changed the institution of jazz education, creating new standards for a performer’s generous relationship with students of all types, and a healthy respect for the place of a thorough education in the evolution of jazz.”

—Jazzed: Jazz Education Journal

“Clark Terry is the epitome of jazz trumpet, of jazz, and of human kindness. His playing is impeccable and original, scintillating, humorous, and brimming with pluckish wit and late-night pungence. His style is virtuosic and deeply intelligent. It cannot be identified by decade or era or style (as it is timeless and definitive of American Jazz and the profoundest aspirations of the jazzman): to be one of a kind, to endure, to inspire, to be truthful, to be accurate, to swing. He has inspired thousands of younger musicians and nourished us with his interest, his knowledge, and his love. His contributions go far beyond the bandstand and he will always be an indelible part of our lives, inseparable from our identity as musicians and people. We all love him deeply. And forever.”—Wynton Marsalis

“Clark Terry is a living history of much of jazz, to which he has contributed as a deeply imaginative soloist and influential band leader. His additional life mission has long been ‘to teach as many young musicians as I could.’ His first pupil was Quincy Jones and he was the first to recognize the potential of Miles Davis. To this day, Clark’s international impact is such that young students come to his home in a small town in Arkansas from Israel, Australia, and other lands to take lessons from Clark. Now, at last, in this memoir of his storied career, Clark swingingly personifies the multi-dimensional jazz life. He writes as he plays—the very sounds and rhythms of surprise!”—Nat Hentoff, author of At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene

“Clark Terry is the unique voice in America’s creative art form called jazz. I would not have a career without him. His friends and admirers cover the whole planet.”—Jimmy “Little Bird” Heath

“Clark Terry has not only been living his dream, he has spent his life helping others to achieve their dreams as well. He’s an extraordinary role model and mentor who has walked the walk. And now, in addition to decades of wonderful music, he is giving us another gift, his autobiography. It is up to us to share the love, the music, and the stories with our children, and our children’s children, for this is how they’ll learn. Thank you, Clark, for the wonderful example you have set. We love you.”—Nancy Wilson

“Clark Terry is an American Master. I love to listen to him, particularly ‘Mumbles.’ I was so delighted when we received degrees together, along with Edward Kennedy, at the New England Conservatory in 1997.”—Aretha Franklin

“I’ve always been a great admirer of Clark Terry’s work on the trumpet and flugelhorn, and now I have become a big admirer of his work as an author—you will love this book.”—Clint Eastwood

“I met Clark when I was sixteen years old. He saw something in me and without hesitation planted me in the most fertile soil any aspiring artist could hope to be in . . . his heart. I am eternally grateful for his generous spirit, love, encouragement, storytelling, and above all laughter throughout the years! Clark . . . I love you madly.”—Dianne Reeves

“I’ve come to know Clark as undoubtedly the greatest teacher in the history of jazz. From the mentoring of Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, to the millions of young musicians touched by the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz all over the globe, Clark and his incredible music stand as a symbol of intellect and spirituality of the highest order to all of us. Thank God for Clark Terry!”—Thelonious Monk, III

“Thank you, Clark, for a lifetime of your incredible talents, and for filling this world with so much love. All of us at the Jazz Foundation of America are sincerely thankful for your compassion and involvement in our efforts to help musicians in need. You are an inspiration and a classic role model truly beyond category!”—Wendy Oxenhorn

“His style, his sound, his look, his voice, his heart, his soul. That’s what inspires Snoop Dogg about Mr. Terry. If I could only do half of what he did in the music business, my life would be complete. I had the honor and pleasure of spending a few days with Mr. Terry. He’s the greatest to ever do it. Thank you, Uncle Quincy, for introducing me to Mr. Mumbles!!!”—Snoop Dogg

“Clark and I have been friends for many decades, and I’ve always enjoyed his music. Recently, on a long, three-hundred-mile drive to our gig, we listened to Clark’s wonderful Porgy and Bess album. This was the second or third time that we’d done that. It sure was some great playing on your part, Clark! We enjoyed those Chicago Jazz Orchestra brass players, too. Congratulations on your book.”—Dave Brubeck

“When I saw Clark performing at the Blue Note in New York, I thought to myself, ‘Could this be what all of us instrumentalists are really trying to do?’ Before my eyes and ears, the legend/man/craftsman went there. As I saw it, there was straight to the source of personal expression. Through Mumbles or through the flugelhorn, the man spoke to me that night, and I’ll remember that always as a larger than life experience.”—Esperanza Spalding

“Clark Terry is a jazz superstar, and one of the most extraordinary individuals I have ever encountered. He’s a world-class musician, educator, composer, jazz pioneer, and a co-founder of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. He has inspired people of all ages with his humor, courage, passion and vision. Thanks for your friendship, Clark, and for always being there for the Institute.”—Tom Carter

“Whenever I see Clark Terry, I always look forward to talking to him and reminiscing about the early bebop years. There’s an expression coined by Lester Young that succinctly says it all about Clark Terry: ‘chandelier,’ a raconteur par excellence, Mumbles-brilliant, original musical brilliance. It has been a privilege.”—Billy Dee Williams

“The one I admire without restriction is Clark Terry, whose pronunciation at the trumpet or bugle is a model of sharpness, clearness and authority. A model which is given with generosity to all of those who want to play this instrument…the way it should be played.”—Maurice André


If it still existed, the first trumpet played by Clark Terry, made out of garbage he found in a junkyard, would deserve a place of honour in a jazz museum. Terry used it to begin his long, rich career, a career he’s recently chronicled with open-hearted charm in Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry (University of California Press).

Read the full review.

by Robert Fulford, National Post
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As a leader and as a sideman with Duke Ellington and Count Basie, among other jazz royalty, this storytelling trumpet player was and remains a master teacher. He gave Quincy Jones his lessons, discovered the singularity of a kid in St. Louis named Miles Davis, and has become so iconic a teacher that to this day musicians here and in other nations travel to his home in Pine Bluff, Ark., for lessons. In his memoir, which has the pulse of jazz’s life force, Clark Terry himself exemplifies what he once told me about Duke Ellington: “He wants life and music to be always in a state of becoming. He always likes to make the end of a song sound like it’s still going somewhere.” On and off the bandstand, and now at his home with students in Arkansas, he gets inside the jazz life. His choruses in this book will bring readers to his music for generations to come.

Reviewed in Nat Hentoff’s article, “Five Best.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL, February 18, 2012
Read the full article.
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Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry has an abundance of memorable moments, some shocking, some joyful, some sad, some funny. The ninety-one-year-old jazz legend had help pulling it all together from his wife of 22 years, Gwen Terry, who not only saw him through this project but stood by him during a perfect storm of medical challenges that intruded on but never fully thwarted his busy life as a performer, teacher, and goodwill ambassador.

Read the full review.

by Stuart Mitchner, Town Topics. Princeton, NJ
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“In his moving autobiography, Clark Terry tells the story of making his very first trumpet out of scrap metal, which led to school bands, then regional orchestras and eventually gigs with Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Terry also tells a fascinating story about how he broke ground when he joined the NBC Orchestra in 1960, becoming the first black member of that band. His contribution to American music would have been cemented with all of the above, but then he discovered jazz education. Clark is a worthy addition to the canon of race relations in this country and an even better account of a gifted, widely loved man who made this country a better place by simply falling in love with jazz.”

Read the full text online.

by Felix Contreras, NPR.
(Reviewed in “Staff Picks: The Best Music Books Of 2011.”)
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The great trumpeter, flugelhornist and mumbler writes with joy about the good times in his long life and with frankness about the rough patches. His humor and generous spirit are intact whether he is telling of his love for Basie and Ellington, his triumphs as a performer, his legions of friends, or encounters with racists and bottom feeders in and out of the jazz world. Terry’s ear, eye and memory for detail provide insights into not only his remarkable career but also the trajectory and development of jazz as an art form and a social force during his many decades in music.

by Doug Ramsey, Rifftides.
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…As a prolific recorder and performer, Terry worked alongside Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, among other greats. Onstage and in the backroom, Terry and his trumpet shared a front-row seat to jazz history. “Clark” is nothing short of that remarkable story.

Read the full review.

by Alexander Heffner, San Francisco Chronicle
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At an age where most of us were still becoming familiar with spelling and reading, Clark Terry made up his mind that
he would play the trumpet – jazz trumpet. Having been blessed with singular talent, he augmented it with ambition and
charm. They have never once failed him for nearly ninety-two years! They are the constant thread around which the
story of Clark Terry is told. The fortunate reader can at last savor the facts which surround the life of a great artist and
a great human being.

Read the full review (Page 2 of linked document).

by William McFadden, “Ellingtonia” – the newsletter of The Duke Ellington Society.
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…I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten to know and like Clark even better through his memoir, Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry. Published by the University of California Press, this 300-page account of Terry’s long and accomplished life is one of the best I’ve ever read in the distinguished genre of jazz autobiography. From an opening sentence in which we’re introduced to his boyhood friend Shitty and soon read of Clark’s youthful discovery that “you can’t eat beans and keep it a secret,” this tale is full of laughs; where Bill Cosby created a brilliant monologue about how he became disabused of the idea that he would someday make a good drummer, I’m sure Clark would have flourished as a comic. His story is rich with sights, sounds and smells, especially the latter. Might amazing olfactories go hand in hand with a brass player’s embouchure? Clark’s memory for everything from funky to fragrant is remarkable.

Read the full review.

by Tom Reney, New England Public Radio
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Clark is a breezy read, fast paced and enjoyable. Honest and genuine. It was a great idea for this young man to get it down on paper.

Read the full review.

by R.J. DeLuke, R.J. on Jazz
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Midway through his sparkling memoir, Clark: The Autobiography of Clark Terry (University of California Press), the author brings readers backstage at Washington D.C.’s Howard Theater, circa 1948. Count Basie, his most recent employer, is informing his “Old Testament” band that the end had come. As he does throughout the book’s 58 chapters (co-authored with Gwen Terry, his wife), the trumpet grandmaster, who turned 90 this year, addresses the scene with emotion, humor, concision, acuity and analytical discernement.

Read the full review.

by Ted Panken, Downbeat, December 2011.
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“The chapters of his memoir become their own improvisations as one memory keys off another, pulling you into the ‘set’ as if you were sitting at a front-row table, until he circles back to the story at hand. . . . Discover: The inside story of modern jazz, told by one of its most revered legends.”

Read the full review.

by Bruce Jacobs,
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CLARK is the autobiography of CLARK TERRY, written, as noted on the book’s cover, with his wife, Gwen Terry. It is essentially his own very personal oral history which he spins out in a comfortably conversational stream. Born in 1920, he starts the story in 1931, searching a junkyard for scraps from which he made his first trumpet – a coiled up old garden hose bound in “three places with wire to make it look like it had valves.” Terry explains that he made that junkyard trumpet right after he heard Duke Ellington’s band play “on a neighbor’s graphophone at a fish fry.” (At that point in his young life, he apparently had no idea that he would be a member of Ellington’s brass section for the best part of the 1950s?)

Read the full review.

by Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence
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Storytellers are to be cherished and Clark Terry should be on a pedestal for his thoroughly entertaining autobiography. Brimming with life, love, music, and great characters, this book is as much a history of the twentieth century as it is a history of his ninety years (and counting!).

The opening line of Clark Terry’s book tells you a few things about the man: “I made my first trumpet with scraps from the junkyard.” This brilliantly sets the stage for a story of a man with an indomitable will and an intense dedication to music. It also shows a guy who is just the right amount of crazy.

“Clark” (written with his wife, Gwen Terry) is a book that is chock full of sights, sounds, smells and situations involving big characters and big emotions, all played out against nine decades of history. There are pimps, whores, con artists, racists, and a full complement of good people and bad.

Jazz giants like Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie are a part of his tale and we get to eavesdrop on some of the conversations. His meet-ups with Miles Davis, scattered through his life, are interesting or acerbic, or both. Through it all, his lifelong friendships are touching and his dedication to jazz (and the teaching of it) is inspirational.

Read the full review.

by John Scott G, Music Industry Newswire
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Clark Terry is one of the most influential and important trumpet players and jazz musicians of a generation. He was fortunate enough to have crossed paths with some of the greatest jazz/studio musicians and band leaders of the past 70 years. Terry is one of the last living links to a rich legacy of African-American culture and jazz dating back to black minstrel shows, the territory bands of the Midwest, the legendary big bands of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and the studio production orchestras in New York. His new autobiography Clark: the Autobiography of Clark Terry (University of California Press) is a long awaited story of the great joy of playing the trumpet and making music since the early 1930s. Terry’s book is conversational in style but blunt and exacting in detail about people and dates; he holds nothing back.

Born in December of 1920 and the seventh of eleven children, Terry’s upbringing was in a poor section of St. Louis MO. The inspiration and drive he had to learn music and play the trumpet is always front and center in his narrative. The story he tells is compelling starting with a first ‘makeshift’ musical instrument produced from junkyard parts. Terry is probably the most direct and honest when speaking about the racism he faced while traveling with musical acts across the southern United States and later dealing with the management at NBC television in the early 1960s in New York.

Terry dispels many myths about people such as Count Basie and Miles Davis and relationships with other musicians and musical groups. Terry had grown up with Miles in St. Louis and was just a few years older than Davis. The most inspiring and provoking prose from Terry is on his time spent with Duke Ellington during the 1950s. Terry specifically documenting his close musical association with Ellington is a delightful read; his commentary on Billy Strayhorn is equally insightful. A grateful attitude seeps into the writing. He is immensely thankful for the opportunities he was given to play with the greatest of the greats in jazz and pop music.

He devotes a great deal of time and importance talking about teaching music. Terry makes an important point about passing on the gift of jazz to a long list of students over the years starting with Quincy Jones as his first trumpet pupil in the late 1940’s.

There are very few criticisms one could give the book. Terry attributes Charlie Shavers and Roy Eldridge as particular trumpet influences. I would have expected Terry to credit more players and recordings as influences in his own sound and approach, but he mentions only those two trumpeters and then only in passing. Terry also talks about playing through the Arbans method book and a clarinet method book. Like a baseball hitter is the only one who can truly say if he was hit by a pitch, Terry is the only one who can truly say who influenced him, so we have to take him at his written word.

Included is a detailed discography compiled by Tom Lord, Terry’s list of compositions, and his list of awards and honors. Introductions, forwards and prefaces are written by Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones and David Demsey. It is well worth your time to read.

by Jack Cooper, JazzTimes


October 9th, 2011 – Book Launch Party
Pine Bluff, AR