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Jazz Perspectives: 'Sweet' Sue Terry

Dan Demetriad

Great Jazz musicians have their own distinct tone. “Sweet” Sue Terry has developed a wonderful open tone with her own style. Terry, who plays saxophone, flute, and clarinet, says that developing your own tone is a work in progress. Most musicians start by listening to someone they really admire and try to recreate that tone. It’s a little like imitating a foreign accent. You listen to someone from another country speaking English, and then try to imitate that with your own voice. She explains:

“When you imitate an accent … there’s certain things you have to do with your tongue that have to do with the way you form the words in order for that accent to be discernible. Yes indeed, you could have many different kinds of accents in your tone. Eventually what will happen is your body and all of the resonant cavities that are inside your body that are working with you physically to produce the sound. You have the sound in your head, and then you have your body making configurations to enable you externalize that sound.”

Terry is also a talented jazz composer. For many musicians the process of composing is quite mysterious, but Terry is better than most at explaining what goes through her head.

“I wouldn’t say that I have any one process that I subscribe to. I utilize various processes. Often I’m inspired to write a tune based on a motif that comes to me, a melodic motif. And that melodic motif I then proceed to develop and embellish and it moves on from there into other motifs,” says Terry.

Specifically, Terry recalls composing her tune “The Troubadours,” which originated with an initial motif of two bars. “And, I just fell in love with those intervals, and fell in love with that line, and I played it over and over again,” says Terry.

Both as a composer and a performer, with her own unique tone, “Sweet” Sue Terry continues to make great contributions to the world of jazz.

Reese Erlich’s “Jazz Perspectives” air monthly on Crosscurrents. To discover more jazz artists, visit www.jazzcorner.com/innerviews.

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