Clark Terry – Mortal No More

One of the best known recording sessions the trumpeter Clark Terry participated in during his long career took place on Wednesday, 24th April, 1957, the fourth of five days the Duke Ellington orchestra spent laying down the tracks for Such Sweet Thunder, the Duke’s take on various and sundry Shakespearean characters. First up that day was “Up and Down, Up and Down (I Will Lead Them Up and Down)”, in which Terry was called upon to personify the elusive Puck, leading mere mortals a merry dance through the forest, and to “speak” through his horn the famous line, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”

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Now Terry, immortal no longer, has died at the age of 94.
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It was reading of his death in the Guardian obituary that sent me foraging through my CDs yesterday, picking out both Such Sweet Thunder and In Orbit, the album Terry made in May, 1958 with Thelonious Monk at the piano, Sam Jones on bass and Philly Joe Jones on the drums.

The In Orbit sessions – May 7th & 12th – are interesting not just because Terry plays the mellower, somewhat deeper sounding fluglehorn as opposed to trumpet, but for the fact that this was one of a relatively small number of times, thus far into his career, that Monk deigned to be a sideman on somebody else’s record. Not only that, Monk plays in a more straightforward manner than usual – propelled to a large extent by Philly Joe Jones’ drumming – the only time the two recorded together, I think – his solos more exuberant and straight ahead than quirky and introspective.

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We were listening to both CDs yesterday evening, initially before and during dinner, and then, having turned on the television at the appropriate time to watch Barcelona against Manchester City, we kept the volume muted, much preferring the likes of Clark Terry’s “One Foot in the Gutter” (based on the chords of Monk’s favourite hymn, “We’ll Understand It Better, Bye and Bye”) and Duke’s “Sonnet to Hank Cinq” to the clichés of soccer commentary.

And although the synchronisation never fully worked, listening to Terry’s joyous, bubbling Puck while watching Lionel Messi was close to a marriage made in some latter-day Shakespearean Ducal heaven.

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