In December, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra trekked for four hours from Fayetteville, Arkansas to surprise the great trumpet player Clark Terry. An emergency had landed Terry, who is blind and ailing, in the hospital. The trip was originally planned for visiting his home to celebrate his 94th birthday on December 14, but the band was determined to pay homage under any circumstance.
“Moving a big band around on a scheduled day off can be very complicated (but)…with literally no lead-time, the hospital was able to source and set up a classroom so we could come in and play for him,” wrote Marsalis on Facebook. “As we pulled up to the everyday world of the hospital, with two tour buses and an equipment truck, we knew it would be special. From the security guards at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, who set aside parking spaces for us, to the administrators, aides and the assistants working specifically with Clark, to his wife Gwen and some of their friends, everyone and everything was soaked in hospitality, human feeling and soul.”
“CT has been such a positive influence on so many of us in the orchestra; we were of one mind about the way we wanted to play for him. Swing! Even before we started playing, many of us were full of emotion.”
“As Clark’s bed was wheeled in we launched into Duke and Strayhorn’s “Peanut Brittle Brigade” from their version of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Nutcracker'”
After playing, they each went over to his bed and expressed their pure veneration for the man Marsalis called “one of the world’s great Maestros.” Other arrangements were played, ending with Happy Birthday, New Orleans-style. When they brought in the cake and Terry blew out the two candles, “everyone broke down.”
Afterward the band all went back to the Clark home where Gwen had laid out a welcoming spread of fried chicken and catfish, coleslaw, succotash. “You know, pure southern soul,” Marsalis said.
(WATCH them play Happy Birthday below – READ the full details on Marsalis’s Facebook Page)
Photos by Frank Stewart via Wynton Marsalis FB page / Story tip from Jerry White