When NEA Jazz Master, trumpeter Clark Terry passed away on February 21st, 2015, the jazz world was in mourning. The mourning did not last long however, as tributes to Terry’s ebullient personality, musical mastery and generous nature as a mentor and jazz educator sprang from all around the globe. I called trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, Detroit’s senior jazz statesman for his thoughts on Clark Terry’s jazz genius.
Marcus had been sick for a few days which is why I wished him well at the end of our conversation. We have good news to share – he is doing much better now. If you are familiar with Marcus’ speaking voice and cadence, you’ll hear the gentle rasp in your mind as you read our short remembrance of Clark Terry and Marcus’ other main mentor, Clifford Brown. If you would like to learn more about Clark Terry, I recommend his excellent website, or his autobiography Clark. For Jazz Appreciation Month, enjoy Marcus Belgrave’s Clark Terry memories and sincere appreciation.
Linda “So - here we go. Marcus, when Wynton Marsalis came to Ann Arbor about two weeks ago, he had a little party with WEMU listeners afterwards, and he told some stories. So finally at the end we said - “We have time for one more question”. So, I piped up and asked, “Can you tell a Marcus Belgrave story?” The one that he decided to tell was one about you playing Clark Terry’s part in Such Sweet Thunder.”
Marcus *Laughs* “Yeah”
Linda “Tell us about that experience and what you had to do to get the Clark Terry vibe down for Wynton Marsalis.”
Marcus “I wrote the solo out”
Linda “You did!?”
Marcus “Yea you know, and I felt like uh, that was what went with the song that they were playing and if I tried to say anything else, it would not really fit the occasion you know? Or the music like it should. So I wrote the solo out, and Wynton said “Man you were supposed to play your own solo, I mean you didn’t have to write out Clark’s solo”. I said “Oh yes I did! Yea I did because uh, that’s what Clark played and it would have been out of character if I had played anything else, so I wrote the solo out the way he played it because any other way would not have been en vogue you know? Because Clark was so dynamic and important in the music at that time, to all music. Duke’s music, Count Basie’s music, but especially Duke’s music. So I just felt that it should have been in that character that Clark put it in.
And then being with Wynton at the same time, the first time I heard Wynton, I don’t know if he knew this. The first time I heard him he was emulating Clark Terry, and he was like 12 years old and 12, 13. Him and his brother Branford. Not in his solo, but I heard him in his practice emulating Clark and Clifford Brown. In fact, all the trumpet players in New Orleans did that. Those were the two guys that they really looked up to along with Louis Armstrong which is the same thing with me and my hometown (Philadelphia). I was just fortunate enough to sit next to Clifford Brown. But Clark Terry was my first influence.
I have another story with Clark Terry. My cousin (Cecil Payne) was always called C.P. Clark Terry was called C.T. My cousin C.P. was working with Quincy Jones at the time. Quincy Jones wrote some music for Clark, and but he didn’t finish copying it and somebody had to pick it up at his house and get it to Clark in New York. So my cousin says to Quincy - yeah let my cousin (Marcus Belgrave) go get it, he knows how to get around New York, and I was about twelve years old then. Quincy said Oh no I don’t believe that, but my cousin (Cecil Payne) says yea he knows how to get around, you just tell him what train and subway stations to get off, where to go, give him the directions and he’ll go deliver it to Clark. Sure ‘nuff I did! And that was my first relationship with the whole group. They were recording. It was the one that (trombonist) Jimmy Cleveland was on. I was around, Cecil took me everywhere, so I was around all those cats when I was in high school. So it was a beautiful thing. It was just a natural thing for me to play music. In fact, a few years later to make Clark remember who I was I played one of the tunes that they played on the session. He said OH YEAH YEAH MY MAN! So yeah I was around those guys in my early life in this music, so that’s when I knew I was gonna be a trumpet player.”
Linda “Oh my gosh, Marcus Belgrave, that is so special, but now I want you to put the teacher hat on.”
Marcus “Say that again”
Linda “I want you to put the TEACHER hat on”
Linda “The teacher hat, let’s talk about Clark Terry as teacher and a mentor, what was so special about him? “
Marcus “ Consummate, always, he was always teaching and uh little licks like uh diddle diddle dee dee dee dee dum , dumm diddle diddle dee. I mean the syllables that he used uh was, I mean if you could get that in your sounds, you were a champion. Deedle deedle dum, deedle deedle diddle dum, deedle deedle deedle dum. Every trumpet player in the world now is learning the Clark phrasing. That’s the way he played. His sound was so unique and every trumpet player wants to know how to do that. That is something that is a constant thing. Every young trumpet player, and it surprised me that so many young trumpet players wanted to learn from Clark, but it was his phrasing and the way he tonged that was special. Clark spent many years in Michigan. He was at Great Lakes Naval Base during the Second World War. That’s where he had plenty of time just to practice, so I know the situations that he developed this particular sound, and every youngster who ever heard him wanted to know how he did that. Clark was a consummate teacher forever.
I had a couple of students of mine from here who taught school in the Detroit Public Schools for thirty years, and they said I want to go meet Clark. I’m going down to Arkansas, so would you give me a good word? I say Hey! No doubt you got it! All the time guys were still wanting to meet Clark all his life. Such a beautiful personality, you can’t beat it. Clark’s personality was wonderful. I saw a situation with him and Dinah Washington. You know Dinah just loved him, well we couldn’t stop it you know. How could we stop it? She said come on Clark, ride up town with me, OKAY (laughs). Such a beautiful guy, everyone loved being around him. He couldn’t help being loved. He had the one, one mistake that he had is that drink that he had. That uhh what it was called, uhhh….. A very sweet wine uh…. Something like that. (editor’s note: Dry Sack Sherry). If he didn’t have that, he wouldn’t play. He was like JC Heard, JC if he didn’t have his Courvoisier he wasn’t going to play. So that was in the contract, and that as the same way with Clark he had to have that. What is it? I can’t recall of the name of it? “
Linda Sauterne, Was it sauterne?
Marcus No something else, sugar tagger something tagger. It was so sweet.
Linda “Okay! Wow you learn something every day!”
Marcus “It was a very sweet wine. I also remember whenever Clark was playing he always crossed his leg. That’s one of the most things I remember about him whenever he sat down, he crossed that leg. Right leg over left and that’s the way he played forever, such a sweet guy.”
Linda “I remember from the Tonight Show band. That he did sit with his leg crossed and the other guys did not but he did. It’s interesting - you learn something every day.”
Marcus “Yeah, it was a comfortable position for him for some reason.”
Marcus “Thank you Linda, thank you so much for calling.
Linda “Okay, alright Marcus you have a good show on Sunday with Patti Austin.”
Marcus “Oh yeah that’s right, I’m hoping to be in good shape by then.”
Linda “You will, you will you got a good woman on your case “
Marcus “I’m telling ya I don’t know how I did that.”
Linda “Well she and I were corresponding, (Joan Belgrave) and I just compared your situation with Joan to the situation between Gwen and Clark Terry. Clark was very fortunate to have Gwen come into his life and you’ve been so fortunate to have Joan come into your life.”
Marcus “I’m telling you timing was perfect.”
Linda “It is, so you give Joan a huge hug for all of us.”
Marcus “I just happened to go to Clark’s house in New Jersey just before he moved down to Arkansas, I was just saying why would you move to Arkansas? But, that was the best thing that happened to him because if he had been in New York his guys would have been in his house everyday. He needed be moved away to Gwen’s home. It was the perfect move at the perfect time. Timing is everything you know? So that was great.
I got a chance to see him perform at Birdland just before that, so yeah that was something…You know Clark if anybody’s ever seen him that he’d start off the evening with a joke. He was getting old and he was only in his late seventies about my age, I’m 78 now so wow how time flies. So yeah he stuck around for a long time for a lot of reasons.
Linda “Thank you Marcus. Be well …”
Marcus “And you too”