By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
Trumpeter Clark Terry and saxophonist James Moody could hang up their horns and retire to swatting porch flies. After all, these two jazz patriarchs have racked up more than ninety years between them, playing with the greatest. Terry appeared with Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Thelonious Monk, and Moody with Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Milt Jackson, and Dizzy Gillespie, to name only a handful.
But they can't stop now. Something's not allowing them to grow old and settle into golfing and gardening. Whatever that mysterious energy is, it has just powered Moody through a run of European concerts, and has Clark Terry packing his bags for a month of touring in Japan. Their crisscrossing on the jazz festival circuit will have them gigging with each other here at the Scottsdale Jazz Festival. You can bet you won't find them jawing backstage about retirement plans.
But maybe, you wonder, these guys think like Sun City grandpas. Remember, they play in a big band, in a swing style that came out of the Thirties. Maybe they get worked into a fervor trashing the last sixty years of radical jazz innovators like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.
Clark Terry responds to that suggestion with a devilish laugh. "Some of those people who put Charlie Parker down when he first came on the scene, you look around now and they're all pro-bebop. There will always be people who are going to come up with something new."
"I'm a big Coltrane fan," says Moody, making sure to include even Coltrane's experimental squealing on the Impulse label, sounds that have been known to curl sheet metal.
"Let me put it to you this way," he says. "You hear Coltrane as he was coming up, then coming into a new thing on those way-out records. That's what he wanted to do and there was a reason for it. I don't ever want to be the type to say, `When you get to a certain point, then I'm through with you.' No! When I get to where you are and I don't understand it, then you're going to have to help me, because I want to grow."
Growing and staying wired on jazz have been one and the same for both Terry and Moody since they were young. Moody was only a kid when he found himself spending Saturday afternoons listening to jazz bands like Jimmie Lunceford's on Make Believe Ballroom, a radio show from New Jersey. His mother loved jazz and his father was a trumpeter. His Uncle Louis bought him his first saxophone.
A few years later, when Moody was in the air force, his unit was putting together a black band and the eager youngster was accepted simply because he owned a horn. He managed to get lessons from the official white air force band, and learned to read music. Moody the jazz player was off and running. He talks like he hasn't aged a day since.
"In my mind," says Moody in a nearly reverent tone, "the thing is to play better tomorrow than I did today. I'm doing it because I love the music and the instrument."
Clark Terry grew up no less intent on wrestling with the gutsy music called jazz. But the young St. Louis boy found himself in an entirely different environment than Moody's.
"Jazz was music that was supposed to have come out of the brothels," Terry remembers. "Jazz education was certainly not condoned. It was unheard of and scowled at. If we had tried to play jazz on the premises of the school, they would have really thrown the book at us. We had to go in the back alleys and hide and practice for our little high school jazz group."
Both men's hunger to learn as much about jazz as possible has never let up. It has also kept each a horn voice worth reckoning with, regardless of the passing years. Clark Terry made it into the two best big bands ever: the unrivaled Count Basie Band, whose hotshot players topped all competition from coast to coast, and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, whose leader filled the group with such distinct soloists and master improvisers that he would write music around their personalities.
Fast forward from that to Terry's novel theft of the flugelhorn from the ranks of classical music to mate it with the dizzy blues piano of Thelonious Monk on sessions like "Zip Co-Ed." Later still his was the wah-wah-wailing horn in Herbie Hancock's soul-funk tune "Blind Man, Blind Man," and he even recorded what has been described as the fastest take ever of Fats Waller's usually lazy "Honeysuckle Rose."
Terry recalls other gigs in which he stretched his musical muscle. "I remember one time I was put on a set with Muddy Waters and at another time with B.B. King, both very beautiful occasions. It was tough but there is always a way of dealing with what you have to. It's like boxing. I used to box a number of years ago and sometimes I'd get hit, and I'd have to bob and weave and fake it until I got my wind back. Then I could come back and give a good account of myself."