Clark Terry, former trumpeter in Count Basie’s and Duke Ellington’s bands, performed with his quintet Friday night to an amiable and appreciative crowd.
The concert, which was held in the elegant Morse Recital Hall of Sprague Memorial Hall, featured the legendary jazz trumpeter playing with remarkable energy for his 80 years. In addition, Terry’s supporting musicians — Dave Glasser (alto saxophone), Helen Sung (piano), Marcus McLaurin (bass) and Sylvia Cuenca (drums) — worked well together in providing a solid framework for the music and engaged in highly enjoyable solos throughout the performance.
Terry, who played with Count Basie’s band in the late 1940s and was later a featured soloist in Duke Ellington’s orchestra for eight years, has his jazz foundations rooted in the swing tradition. Not surprisingly, all of the pieces played at Friday’s performance were in standard 4/4, 32-bar song form. These included the usual suspects (“Bye-bye Blackbird”) as well as lesser-known, sometimes tongue-in-cheek numbers (“Samba de Gums”). Terry prefaced each of the songs with personal, often amusing anecdotes, and his warm stage manner helped put the audience at ease.
Although technically speaking, Terry’s virtuosity is not at the same level as it was in his youth, he still displays adroit embouchure control and makes up for any lack of pyrotechnics with an almost palpable feel for the music.
That isn’t to say that pyrotechnics aren’t to be found in Terry’s playing, for his chops still function impressively. For instance, after a simple call and response between the trumpet and saxophone in the song “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed,” Terry embarked on his solo by first playing a set of whimsical glissandos before launching into a series of intricate runs. His vibrato-less tone vaguely resembles that of Miles Davis (especially when playing with a harmon mute), and it is understandable that Terry was an influence on the younger trumpeter.
Glasser’s alto sax playing throughout the program was Adderley-esque in terms of swinging drive and note selection. This made itself especially apparent in the encore selection (“It Could Happen to You”), during which he engaged in a blazing saxophone solo.
On piano, Sung demonstrated impressive technique (almost certainly classically based). She incorporated interesting, quasi-traditional voicings and a good overall feel for the music.
The finger, hand and arm weight with which Sung approached the keys allowed her to create a smooth yet strident sound regardless of the speed of her playing. Her solos on songs such as “Samba de Gums” and “Satin Doll” were for the most part horizontal, utilizing a wide variety of runs reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio work. Occasionally she would move appropriately outside the harmonic structure of a piece, but never at the expense of the overall sound.
The rhythm section of the Quintet, like the horns and piano, displayed a keen sense of ensemble and solo playing throughout the concert. McLaurin ornamented the bass line with velvety runs and a good sense of the beat — sometimes fast but always rhythmically correct.
On the drum set, Cuenca consistently kept good time, whether simply maintaining the beat or taking a solo. At times, she would throw out cute, almost playful rhythmical statements, while at other times she would take a much more bombastic approach to her playing.
Clark Terry’s performance on Friday was for the most part a display of traditional, pre-bebop jazz. The playing was straight, the song selection was cheerful and the atmosphere was lively and enjoyable. As people were exiting the show, Terry extemporaneously launched into a poignant soliloquy on his trumpet. The audience quickly quieted down and for maybe ten more seconds listened to the tenderly improvised melody — Terry’s way of saying “thank-you” and “good-bye.”
Even at age 80, Clark Terry hasn’t lost the spontaneity so importantly associated with jazz music and the feeling of pleasant surprise that his sound can create.