Longtime jazz musician and educator Clark Terry has died. He was 94.
Al Hicks, director of the documentary about Clark’s life, Keep on Keepin’ On, told The Hollywood Reporter on Saturday (Feb. 21). He had been in failing health for several years due to advanced diabetes and entered hospice earlier this month, Billboard reported.
On Feb. 11, Terry’s Facebook page informed followers of his declining health and transition into hospice care. “It is with a heavy heart we share that our beloved Clark Terry is now in hospice care. Gwen and the health care team are making sure that Clark is as comfortable as possible. During this time the family is asking for your prayers.”
A native of St. Louis, Terry rose to fame as a sideman for two legends of swing/big band music, first performing with Count Basie between 1948-1951 and then Duke Ellington from 1951-1959. Terry held the distinction of being one of few who played in both bands.
He made an even bigger impact in the 1960s as the first-ever African-American staff musician at NBC, where he spent 12 years as a featured horn player in The Tonight Show band. It was during this time that Terry scored a hit (credited to Oscar Peterson Trio) with “Mumbles,” a play on his signature style of scat-singing.
Terry released more than 80 albums as a bandleader and hundreds more as a sideman to jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Clifford Brown, Milt Jackson and Quincy Jones. According to a sprawling discography compiled by Tom Lord, Terry played on 788 recording sessions as a sideman and 114 as a leader between 1947 and 2008. Never one to be tied down, his styles range from swing to bebop to hard bop and he’s recognized for pioneering the use of the flugelhorn in jazz.
Terry’s biggest passion, however, was jazz education. Over the years the NEA Jazz Master organized countless camps and clinics, including planting the seed for Jazz Mobile in NYC, and has taught and mentored at numerous colleges and universities. “Teaching jazz allows me to play a part in making dreams come true for aspiring musicians,” he says on his website.
One such mentorship, between Terry and 23-year-old blind piano prodigy Justin Kauflin, was the basis of the 2014 documentary Keep on Keepin’ On. The Quincy Jones-produced film won two awards at the Tribeca Film Festival and was on the shortlist for best documentary feature Oscar.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.