Jazzmen come together

June 24, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Inspired by the music he could hear from outside the white-clientele-only Sautter's Park in the St. Louis of his childhood, Clark Terry fashioned his first trumpet from a garden hose and an old kerosene funnel.

His friend Charlie Jones made a tuba of sorts from a beer mug and vacuum cleaner hose, and his brother got a sound close to a snare drum by hitting an ice box pan on a bushel basket with drumsticks made of chair rungs.

"We did pretty good," said Terry in a phone interview from his New Jersey home.

Terry grew up, got real trumpets and started a jazz career that spans more than 60 years.

At 83, Terry, nicknamed Mumbles, still is doing "pretty good," and he'll be playing - trumpet and fleugelhorn - and doing some of his trademark scat singing Saturday, June 26, at the Don Redman Heritage Concert in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.


Redman, born in Piedmont, W.Va., in 1900, was a 1920 graduate of Storer College in Harpers Ferry, one of the first schools founded to educate freed slaves after the Civil War. The late Redman is known as the first great arranger in jazz history.

"I'm still pretty busy," Terry said, noting that he recently played a jazz festival in Detroit and picked up an award in his hometown. In August, he'll be playing in Rhode Island at the 50th annual Newport Jazz Festival.

Terry said he didn't really have formal musical training as a kid. He was one of 11 children, and his parents couldn't afford lessons. Terry played in a drum and bugle corps as a youngster and learned valve trombone in high school. He played with a Navy band during World War II.

He recalled his 1948 audition with Count Basie's band. The established trumpeters chose a piece with a high A.

"I knew I was gonna blow it," Terry said.

But he played the A - the only time he hit the note.

"I was lucky that day," he said.

In 1951, he joined Duke Ellington's orchestra, and he stayed there as a featured soloist for eight years.

Terry was the first black man to become a staff member of the NBC orchestra - at a time when the network said there were no blacks good enough to play on television.

He's toured the Middle East and Africa for the U.S. State Department, performed at the White House for seven presidents and received honorary doctoral degrees from a dozen colleges and universities. He teaches and has written dozens of musical compositions and three jazz books. He's recorded hundreds of albums and CDs with his own band and with jazz luminaries Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughn, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones and Aretha Franklin.

Terry will be joined by bassist Cleveland Eaton, who grew up in a musical family and a home that had four pianos and a Hammond organ. Eaton, 63, began piano lessons at age 5, saxophone at 8, trumpet for three years at 10, and he spent a couple of years learning tuba and bass.

Fifty years ago, he focused all of his attention on the upright stringed instrument. "I fell so in love with the bass," he said. He practiced 15 to 18 hours a day, determined to master the instrument. He did, and two weeks later, got a job as a bass player.

He earned a music degree from Tennessee A&I College (now Tennessee State University), graduating in 1960 on a Friday, going to Chicago, playing at the Monday night jam session at the Sullivan Hotel and landing a job with the Ike Cole Trio - led by Nat King Cole's brother. He taught ninth grade in Chicago for five years until Henry Mancini got him involved in studio recording.

He played with the Ramsey Lewis Trio for 10 years, making 30 recordings - including four gold albums and several gold singles. The trio recorded the only piece Eaton had composed in college; Lewis named it "Struttin' Lightly." Eaton said he's written thousands of songs by now

Eaton described himself as a "jazz cat" - not a blues man. He could play the same hits over and over because he was able to forget what he played each night. "The next night it would be a fresh tune - something different every night," he said.

In 1979 he took what was supposed to be a two-week gig filling in for the bassist in Count Basie's band. While playing the first number, Eaton saw Basie - whom he described as a fellow "country cat" - give manager Sonny Cohn a signal. The signal meant that Basie wanted him. Eaton was hired after one show and was with the orchestra for 17 years.

Eaton, who has played and recorded with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Sara Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald, said, "I'm a spare for everybody."

He returned home to Alabama in 1996 and joined the University of Alabama's music faculty as creator and conductor of the school's jazz ensemble.

He left the university last year, but continues to teach in a downtown Birmingham, Ala., studio. He's also been producing recordings and, although he said he's tired of traveling, he still plays. His band is called Cleve Eaton and the Alabama Jazz AllStars.

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