Rare Recordings by Clark Terry’s Big Band

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WOODS: A Toi [Etoile]. Rabdi. GROFÉ: Grand Canyon Suite: On the Trail. GAYNAIR: Don’t Speak Now. Q. JONES: Blues All Day, Blues All Night. R. HENDERSON: Carney. STRAYHORN: Rock-Skippin’ at the Blue Note. Take the “A” Train. ELLINGTON: Just Squeeze Me. HODGES: Jeep’s Blues. WESS: Shellgame. TERRY: Mumbles. DORHAM: Una Mas / Clark Terry, tpt/fl-hn/voc; Dale Carley, John Melito, Bob Montgomery, Oscar Gamby, tpt; Hal Crook, Buster Cooper, Richard Boone, tb; Chuck Connors, bs-tb; Chris Woods, a-sax/fl; Bill Saxton, Herman Bell, t-sax; Charles Williams, a-sax; Charles Davis, bar-sax; Charles Fox, pno; Victor Sproles, el-bs; Dave Adams, dm / Storyville SVL 1018529 (live: Hilversum, September 6, 1979)

Clark Terry (1920-2015) wasn’t really a jazz innovator the way that Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chet Baker or Freddie Hubbard were. His career straddled both the swing and bebop eras, and although he later used some rhythmic devices from bop he was relatively conservative in his use of harmony; but he was one of the pioneers of the flugelhorn in jazz, and even on a conventional trumpet or cornet, he somehow produced a tone completely different from everyone else’s—a sort of “chubby” tone, as instantly identifiable as Davis’ forlorn notes on muted trumpet.

He was also a very amiable personality who got along with a lot of different musicians in different genres, working for the bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Gerry Mulligan (his superb but short-lived “concert band” of 1960-61), and the Tonight Show band under Doc Severinsen. He was also a wonderful mentor of young talent, helping to promote such artists as Davis, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and Pat Metheny, among others. Jones, in fact, wrote the liner notes for this album, full of love and respect for the man who had faith in him when he was just 13 years old.

Judging from his career summary on Wikipedia, this big band was one of several short-term projects that Terry was involved in during these years. In November 1980, 14 months after this live session, he was a headliner along with Anita O’Day, Lionel Hampton and Ramsey Lewis in an opening two-week engagement at the short-lived revival of the Blue Note Lounge in Chicago. But apparently this band was around long enough for it to have a theme song, the opening number by Phil Woods. It’s listed on the album art as A Toi, but Terry pronounces it as Etoile, the French word for “star.” Since I’m not 100% sure, I’ve listed it both ways.

The style of the band isn’t bop-related, but a sort of cross between swing and the kind of funky blues style that emerged in the 1970s. Drummer Dave Adams swings the band in a nice, loose fashion, but electric bassist Victor Sproles sticks to a very straight four. Alto saxophonist Chris Woods, no relation to Phil Woods, plays in almost a Johnny Hodges style. (Woods died just a few years later, in 1985 at the age of 59.) The charts are nice in a generic sort of way. My guess is that this set was recorded in the Hilversum radio studio without an audience, since none is present and there is no applause. Terry introduces each number at the microphone with no ambient sound around him.

One of the interesting things about this band, which apparently was common with Terry, is that he sat out on some numbers to give other sidemen a chance to show their stuff, but for me one of the highlights of this set was the very swinging arrangement of Ferde Grofé’s On the Trail, on which Terry shines. The sound quality is simply miraculous; the recording sounds as if it could have been made yesterday…but of course, this was already the era of digital recording, and it’s obvious that the Europeans were actually ahead of many American labels in producing superior sound.

Clearly, Quincy Jones’ blues All Day, Blues All Night, which Terry tells us has an alternate title, Booze All Day, Dues All Night, sounds like other Jones compositions from the 1950s, when he was writing for the all-star Lionel Hampton orchestra that toured in France. It’s mostly a slow blues-type number, but has an uptempo section in the middle, and here Terry shows off his excellent plunger technique. I also enjoyed Rick Henderson’s tribute to Harry Carney, a jazz musician who other baritone saxists looked up to but who, because he played with Ellington for most of his life, never seemed to get the press that Gerry Mulligan or Pepper Adams did.

Yet another good tune and arrangement is a Billy Strayhorn piece I’d never heard before, Rock-Skipping at the Blue Note. On this one, bass trombonist Chuck Connors takes what Terry describes as the “lowest and shortest solo in jazz history,” three notes. Yes, folks, just three notes. A cute gag. Terry sings in addition to playing trumpet on Just Squeeze Me. Interestingly, his singing style isn’t that far removed from that of Louis Prima.

In short, although this set is fairly conventional musically (I wish the band had taken more risks), it is played and recorded flawlessly and some of the solos are really good. Clark Terry fans will definitely want this one.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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