The son of a choirmaster, Dan Terry was born Daniel Kostraba on December 22, 1924, in Kingston, Pennsylvania. After working with George Summerson’s territory band as a teenager, he went to New York City and worked with Muggsy Spanier before entering the United States Marine Corps. After leaving the service, he moved to Los Angeles to lead the Hollywood Teenagers Band before returning to New York in 1948 to play with Sonny Dunham for eight months. Dan then studied theory at the College of the Pacific on the GI Bill from 1948-49.
Dan then formed his own band and went out on the road. Engagements included the Totem Pole Ballroom in Boston, the Aragon and Trianon Ballrooms in Chicago, Glen Island Casino, Tahoe Village, Chase Hotel in St. Louis, Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, and the Statler Hotel in New York. He and his band also appeared at college proms and concerts from coast to coast, including UCLA, San Jose State College, University of San Francisco, University of Iowa, Rutgers University, Princeton University, Cornell University, Indiana University, University of North Carolina, University of West Virginia and many others. He also recorded four sides arranged by Marty Paich for Vita Records in 1952, including “Autumn in New York” and the minor hit “Terry Cloth.”
On the recommendation of bassist Wendell Marshall, Dan’s band went into Birdland in 1954, playing there with Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and others. Also in 1954, Dan was signed by Columbia Records along with Pete Rugolo and Les Elgart, and recorded 20 sides included on the records “Teen Age Dance Session” (Columbia) and “Teen Age Dance Party” (Harmony). That same year, he was also featured in the Universal film short “Birth of a Band” with Connie Haines and Don Gordon.
Dan appeared in Carnegie Hall with his band for the Charlie Parker Memorial Concert along with Dinah Washington and a host of other jazz celebrities. He also toured with the “Birdland All Stars” in concerts at Boston Arena and Carnegie Hall as a featured artist with the Count Basie Band. The September 25, 1954 Carnegie Hall performance was featured in a live recording: an album called “Birdland All-Stars at Carnegie Hall” with Count Basie and Lester Young on Roulette Records. Also in the 1950s, Dan appeared on the Tonight Show with Jack Parr, and in 1958, he and his “Band with the Hi-Fi Sound” recorded “Coca-Cola Rock” and “Bull Fiddle Walk” on Devere Records with the Freddie Martel Singers.
In the 1960s, Dan wrote music for and performed in the films The Hustler and The Manchurian Candidate. He also served on the music staff for Dean Martin and Hollywood Palace shows, six television specials with Jackie Gleason, Gleason’s recordings on Capitol Records, and twelve albums with George “The Fox” Williams for CBS. Dan owned and operated Big Daddy’s Nightclub at the Travel and Transportation Building at the 1965 New York World’s Fair, built and operated the Club Lido in Studio City, CA, and served as Musical Director at Basin Street East from 1962 to 1965. He also served as Musical Conductor for Sammy Davis with the Will Mastin Trio, Frances Langford, Noonan and Marshall, and Yma Sumac.
After returning to the West Coast, Dan recorded the album Lonely Place, which was released as HT-1005 on Happy Tiger Records in 1969. He then moved to Las Vegas, where he was prominent in the city’s music community in the 1970s and early 1980s. He played trumpet and led his big band in performance at the Tropicana, Mint, Thunderbird, and Sahara Hotels, and had a four-week engagement in 1979 at the Dunes Hotel with weekly radio broadcasts on KDWN-AM. While there, he served as president of Copyrite Music, Inc., a complete music service which included composing, conducting, arranging, and music preparation. In that capacity, Dan worked closely for ten years with the following artists and their representatives: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, Harry Belafonte, Sergio Franchi, Lena Horne, Robert Goulet, Diahann Carroll, Petula Clark, Vic Damone, and Alan King.
Other projects in the 1970s included serving as Barbara McNair’s Musical Director on a national tour in 1973. He and his band also performed on the 1976 Dorothy Hamill TV special, and were featured in various locations in Toronto including the Savarin Nightclub, The Forum at Ontario Place, the Canadian National Exhibition Bandshell, Sheraton Grand Hotel, and the Leisure Lodge in Cambridge, ON.
In the 1990s, Dan settled in San Diego, where he formed the Horns of San Diego and an offshoot, the San Diego Youth Swing Band, a group designed to give high school musicians an opportunity to perform his library of big band arrangements. Musicians in the band included trumpeter Igmar Thomas and drummer Mikey Cannon. He produced the band’s CD “Bein’ Green” on the Metronome label in 1999.
In addition to his recordings and touring, Dan worked as a jazz radio announcer for 40 years at stations in Stockton, CA, Las Vegas, Middletown, NY, and Phoenix.
Dan passed away on December 27, 2011 at the VA Hospital in Danville, Illinois, after a short illness.