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Tribute to St. Louis jazz great Clark Terry: ‘His aura radiated with the feeling and sound of jazz'

Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio
Trumpet virtuoso Byron Stripling brought his trumpet to the studio.

St. Louis was home to the late, great jazz musician Clark Terry, who died in last year at the age of 94.

Contemporary trumpet virtuoso Byron Stripling was one of the many jazz musicians, from Miles Davis to Quincy Jones, who was influenced by Terry. Stripling, who spent part of his childhood in St. Louis, has returned to the city to pay tribute to Clark Terry at Jazz at the Bistro.

Credit Michael Worner | U.S. Navy
Clark Terry performing with the Great Lakes Navy Band Jazz Ensemble in 2002.

“You were drawn to him,” Stripling said. “It was almost like a force that drew you to Clark Terry because of the contagious personality he had in his playing but also in his being. His aura radiated with the feeling and sound of jazz.”

Stripling is a jazz great in his own right, having been featured as a lead trumpeter and soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Joe Henderson Big Band and GRP All-Star Big Band.

Listen to Stripling’s conversation with St. Louis on the Air with contributor Steve Potter along with a few musical selections here:

Stripling said that, like a lot of people, he spent his life communicating with Terry by postcard, letters and phone.

“One of the great things he did for me as a kid was that I wrote him a letter, there was a jazz book I had read, I wrote him a letter unsolicited, I was nobody, and I asked him a question about how to play trumpet and I asked him to send me a picture of him with an autograph. He sent four pictures. I still have those pictures. I still have those letter and postcards. Those are treasures to me, which will stay with me until the day I die.”

Terry was an American swing trumpeter who pioneered the flugelhorn in jazz. He was also a composer who played with Charlie Barnet, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Many knew him from his performances with the Tonight Show Band during the ‘60s and ‘70s.

One of the things that Stripling wants to highlight about Terry was his incredible history as an educator.

Clark Terry at the 1981 Monterey Jazz Festival.
Credit Brian McMillen | brianmcmillen@hotmail.com
Clark Terry at the 1981 Monterey Jazz Festival.

“One of the interesting things about his career is that one night he’d be playing with Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Monty Alexander and the next night he might be with a high school band,” Stripling said. “These are people who are showing up because their kids are playing in the band. They don’t necessarily know Clark Terry…he wasn’t Bruce Springsteen…he was this jazz guy.”

Nevertheless, Terry would go to these small towns and work with the kids on jazz techniques.

“By the end of it, you were totally enamored with this guy who had such an ebullient personality,” Stripling said. “He was the beginning of what jazz education was all about.”

Stripling said that Terry spent some of his time educating in area of the country where people had never seen a black man and that he truly saw music as a way to heal people.

“After an interaction with Clark Terry, you fell in love with him,” Stripling said. “The day before meeting him, you may have crossed the street when you saw a man who looked like him. But you fell in love with him after you met him. This went beyond music.”

Stripling’s tribute to Terry will feature a variety of his best known sounds and will emphasize his “warm, velvety sound.”

“You don’t have to be a jazz fan,” Stripling said. “That’s really important with Clark Terry. You don’t have to be a jazz fan to like and to love his music because it invites you into it. You are invited in not only with virtuosic or bluesy sense but also with humor. He brings that to you.”

Related Event

What: Jazz St. Louis Presents "A Tribute to Clark Terry" with Byron Stripling and the Jazz St. Louis Big Band
When: March 25 and 26 at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Where: Jazz at the Bistro, 3536 Washington Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63103
More information.  

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.