John Carter was one of the very few free jazz players to concentrate exclusively on clarinet, and one of not very many to place an emphasis on the music's composed elements. Carter studied alto saxophone and clarinet early in his career. He played with fellow Fort Worth native Ornette Coleman in the late '40s. In 1949, he received his bachelor's degree from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO. In 1956, he earned a master's degree from the University of Colorado. He taught in Fort Worth Public Schools from 1949-1961 and in the Los Angeles school system from 1961-1982.