Clark Terry was carefully pushed through the crowd to the edge of the Jazz Alley stage in a wheelchair. From there he was helped, step by cautious step, to his stool at center stage. The audience cheered him as he climbed up, and settled in. He looked up, the crowd went quiet, and with a grin he said, "old age sucks."
We all laughed, relieved of our concern, charmed by the indomitable spirit of the man who has been climbing onto bandstands for more than 60 years, sharing them with the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Oscar Peterson, and influencing great players like Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, and so many more along the way.
He's been knighted in Germany, named to the French Order of Arts and Letters, recognized with a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master fellowship, received fifteen honorary doctorates, and was the first black musician at NBC leading to 10 years as a spot light musician in Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. The story goes on and on, just like Terry (I mean that in the most respectful way.)
He possesses an invaluable historic perspective on jazz, its culture, and its characters, and he shares it freely, like when he reminisced last December about Thelonious Monk at a Jazz Museum in Harlem speaker series. When NPR's Jacki Lynden asked how he kept going, he responded, "It's young people, they keep you honest, they're gonna ask you questions. You better have some answers." After the interview, he took the stage with young lion Roy Hargrove, a half-century his junior.
Today is Mr. Terry's 86th birthday, and thanks to him I'm quite convinced that old age can swing. Happy Birthday man! We'll see you at Jazz Alley in January.