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ClarkThe Autobiography of Clark Terry$

Clark Terry and Gwen Terry

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780520268463

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520268463.001.0001

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Road Lessons

Road Lessons

22. Road Lessons

Gwen Terry

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

Clark Terry was at the worst of his times during the spring of 1946. It was after a period of hard work and hard times that he got an offer by Lucky Millander to play at the Castle Ballroom. Much to his disappointment, none of Clark's family members came to hear him play. Even though the performance was a hit among the audience, it did not appeal to Clark's heart. Soon after, he was ready to join George Hudson's band for the tour to Illinois. It was the same time when the Metronome magazine carried a full-page chapter on Clark about his career. Happy by all that he had got, Clark wanted jazz to be respected the way classical music was. The gig at the Apollo, for Illinois was a hit among the audience but was dislike by Illinois himself, and that's when Clark learned that it was not easy to impress everyone at the same time.

Keywords:   Clark Terry, Metronome magazine, jazz, classical music, Illinois

When spring of '46 came, I still hadn't heard from Hamp. I had been in and out of the Club Plantation with George's band, and my pockets were hinner than my old shoe soles in Carondelet. I was barely making ends meet. Trying to turn five into ten, craps still ate most of my pay. Then I got a big chance to sit in with Lucky Millander at the Castle Ballroom. Bright lights and big bread!

The tree bark that Lucky had “blessed” was selling like hotcakes. It was just a gimmick to fatten his pockets, but everybody thought they'd be lucky playing the numbers if they had a piece-even my brother Ed. When I visited Carondelet, Ed's wife, Mamie, was raving about it. She stood around four foot eight. Color of bittersweet chocolate. Her bottom lip was stuffed with Skeetin' Garret snuff, as usual. She said, “Yeah, John. Now you talkin'! Lucky Mil'ner ′bout the best thang you came ′cross. I got my piece of lucky bark, too!”

Margueritte was busy raising her thirteen-year-old daughter, Murlene, (p.95) and dealing with Johnny Pop's antics. Bus and his wife, Dimples, were faring okay, as were my other sisters. Marie was pregnant and happy. Still, none of them came to hear me play, even though colored folks were allowed at the Castle. I thought it was because Pop had embedded the taboo about jazz in their minds and they couldn't shake it. It hurt me, but I just let it alone and kept playing.

Lucky's music was very difficult. But with a piece of his “blessed bark” in my pocket, I made it through those strange, handwritten arrangements and enjoyed his showmanship. The manuscripts were marked where he'd jump down off a high pedestal onto a gigantic galloping domino—a big die. Then at another point he'd jump down and spin around onto the next die. With those two oversized dice for props, he milked the show to the last drop. The audience went wild, and I got paid. But his show didn't twang my heartstrings.

Before long, George told me that Illinois was ready with his tour and that we'd be leaving in a few days. While I was packing the next day, I heard Ada Mae say that I was in Metronome magazine. So I dashed out and bought a copy. It had a great article that George Simon had written about me one night while I was gigging with George's band, and it even had a picture.

It was a full-page article about my career—my high school band, the Vashon Swingsters; my idols—Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers; the Reuben and Cherry Carnival; the V-discs I'd made in the navy. And it ended with, “You'll be hearing a great, modern trumpeter who plays with a beat, with feeling, with facility, and, above all, he plays like nobody else!”

Man! I pasted that article in my scrapbook right next to my first publicity shots with George's band and a solo shot of me dressed in the expensive threads that Shorty Ralph had arranged for me to buy—an awesome navy blue suit with thin white pinstripes. Autographing those photos had been all the rage. But still, I couldn't wait to get out of St. Louis.

That evening I boarded the bus with George and the cats. We were joking about the conflicting meanings of TOBA—the newest one was Theater Owners Benevolence Association. Whatever the latest definition might be, it was still Tough on Black Asses for me. Miles of travel, bad food, no sleep, living out of a suitcase. Slick talkers like Johnny Pops. But it was still worth all the hardships, because when I put my trumpet up to my chops and played, I loved it. I knew that one day jazz would be respected by the world just like classical music. I wanted to teach jazz and be right there when it got its due reward.

I also wanted to be respected, in spite of the fact that I hadn't finished (p.96) high school—which bothered me a lot. But I kept studying the dictionary and my English books, so that my grammar and vocabulary would be up to par.

When we played the Apollo, I looked at the intricate architecture, the domed ceiling, the velvet seats and the carved balconies. I felt the beat of Harlem, the soul of black, brown, and beige America. It was deep! An appreciation of our music with roots from Africa. A pulse. I knew then that I'd have to go to our “Mother Country” one day.

We played a few hot, swinging tunes that night at the Apollo, then we rushed to change clothes. The audience was on their feet! I felt that applause all over. We were dressed sharper that Gillette razors. Then we hit “Body and Soul”—an arrangement by Bugs Roberts out of St. Louis. The lights went down and the spotlight came on. Zap, right on Weasel, a little bitty cat whose tenor was almost as big as him. He played this awesome solo. I was staring along with all the cats, and the audience was roaring. He played some shit I'd never heard him do before. He started out in one tempo and then went into double time. Then Weasel just flew, notes jumping out of his horn a mile a minute. He was so animated, bobbing and weaving. Man! Unbelievable. He blew everybody's mind. Maybe even his own.

After all the ovations—and the applause went on for a while—we went backstage in an uproar. But Illinois was pissed! He screamed at George, “I don't want that shit! Take that number out!”

That's when I learned, more than ever: everybody ain't gonna be glad for you.