StLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Clark Terry plays Duke Ellington


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With live music in St. Louis shut down for at least a couple of months, this weekly feature—which frequently, though not exclusively, previews performances by jazz and creative music artists coming to town—will need a different focus for a while. While yr. humble editor isn't exactly sure right this minute what that will be, it likely will involve showcasing the work of St. Louis' own bands and musicians, with some sort of theme or unifying element to tie each post together.

In the meantime, after what has been a rough week for a lot a people, today's entry is essentially a visit with an old friend- trumpeter and St. Louis native Clark Terry, who not only was a great musician, but who exemplified the sort of resilience and good humor that we could all use right about now. (This year also marks 100 years since Terry's birth, a subject which we will return to a later date.)

More specifically, today's topic is Terry's relationship with the music of Duke Ellington. It began, formally at least, in the 1950s when Terry played in Duke's orchestra, and continued for the rest of the trumpeter's life, as he included some Ellington works in just about every gig he played.

You can get a taste of that enduring relationship by perusing today's compilation of videos, which show Terry in three different musical settings- quartet, big band, and duo.

In the first video up above, Terry is playing Ellington's “Satin Doll" at a gig in April 1985 at Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen, Denmark, accompanied by pianist Duke Jordan, bassist Jimmy Woode, and drummer Svend Nørregaard. After the jump, you can see a performance of “Mood Indigo" from the same session.

Next, there's a clip of Terry's Big BAD Band from 1981, performing a new arrangement of Ellington's theme “Take The “A" Train" at a gig in France. (Look closely and you can spot a very young Branford Marsalis in the sax section.)

That's followed by a clip of Terry with the actual Ellington band, recorded in November 1958 as part of an Italian TV broadcast. The performance of “El Gato" features the entire Ellington trumpet section, which at the time included Terry, high-note specialist Cat Anderson, Ray Nance, and another St. Louis native, Harold “Shorty" Baker. While Anderson gets to do all the splashy high-register playing, all four men get a solo for a bit, and given that any one of them might have been considered the “star" of another band, it's a vivid reminder of the formidable stockpile of talent Ellington had in his orchestra at the time.

After that, there are two videos of duets by Terry and bassist Red Mitchell, recorded at a gig in 1987, in which they deliver more intimate versions of “Mood Indigo" and “Take The “A" Train."

Last but not least, there's an excerpt of an interview with Terry in which he talks about how he was recruited by Ellington and discusses their musical and personal relationship.

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved.

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