EVER TOO OLDTO LEARN EVERY DAY IS SCHOOL DAYFOR JAZZ GREATS CLARK TERRY AND JAMES MOODY
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."
Moody, too, has reaped the benefits of being able to stay on his toes. He was the saxophonist Dizzy Gillespie chose for a variety of bands reaching back over the past forty years--no small feat considering the stature of the other saxophonist most closely linked with Gillespie, Charlie Parker. In 1972 Moody earned the enviable position of playing in the band bassist Charles Mingus assembled at New York's Philharmonic Hall to end his ten-year absence from the concert stage.
Keeping his chops honed even landed Moody a hit on both the jazz and rhythm and blues charts. Moody had improvised a solo on "I'm in the Mood for Love" that vocalist Eddie Jefferson found so perfect he put words to it and called it "Moody's Mood for Love." King Pleasure recorded it in 1949 and both Aretha Franklin and George Benson have recorded versions since.
Listening to either man play, you're left believing that maybe the fountain of youth does spring from the bell of a jazz horn. The last thing Terry or Moody wants is for the source of his rejuvenation to be kept a secret.
"I just wish people were a little more aware of the history of jazz," says Moody. "That's going to change," he adds with confidence, "now that they're finally teaching it in school like they are in Europe. My advice: Listen to everybody, everybody."
Moody makes sure he is doing his part in passing on the jazz torch. Just before his European tour he spent time as artist-in-residence at the University of Northern Florida.
Clark Terry has long been considered a leader in the jazz education movement--an amazing leap for the man who had to learn it himself in back alleys. The most colorful of all Clark Terry stories sheds light on his interest in education. When he was 21, the small jazz band Terry played in was performing at a picnic ground in Carbondale, Illinois. A high school boy six years younger than Terry approached him, asking very specific questions about his style and how he got his sound. Too busy watching high school girls frolicking around the park Maypole, Terry blew the kid off. A few years later Terry was introducing himself to the newest trumpet wunderkind in St. Louis. "I'm the kid you fluffed off in Carbondale," a young Miles Davis reminded him.
These days Terry has the utmost respect for another young trumpeter/jazz educator who hasn't made the mistake of underestimating his students.
"Wynton Marsalis got involved early with emphasizing the roots of jazz," he says. "Before he came on the scene a lot of young people would never have gone back and found out the importance of Louis Armstrong in the history of jazz."
Marsalis and the other youngbloods who have learned from their mentors are no threat to Moody or Terry. New faces keep jazz alive. For Moody and Terry, the message is the same: Forget the differences in style or approach, just dig in and listen. It might take you somewhere new.
"I was in Moscow," recalls Moody, "and there was a trumpet player who was put in jail for playing jazz. Now that they're free, they're wiggin' out over there for jazz. Talk about freedom, you're free with jazz to improvise on any piece of music you want to play, solo through it, do it two, three, four times in ways that won't ever sound the same.
"Take chances, show others how to do the same. It'll keep you young."
Clark Terry and James Moody will perform at the Scottsdale Jazz Festival at the Registry Resort on Sunday, April 28. Showtime is 11 a.m.
"Take chances, show others how to do the same. It'll keep you young."
Growing and staying wired on jazz have been one and the same for both Terry and Moody since they were young.
"The thing is to play better tomorrow than I did today."
Maybe the fountain of youth does spring from the bell of a jazz horn.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.