Terell Stafford has been hailed as “one of the great players of our time, a fabulous trumpet player” by piano legend McCoy Tyner.
Yet long before his career got started, it almost ended when one of his first music teachers told his parents that he had no musical talent and they should end any future lessons.
Fortunately, the advice was ignored, and the young Stafford went on to pick up the trumpet at the age of 13. And even though he was drawn to jazz, something both his parents loved, he began to study classical music.
“The trumpet finally became my outlet,” Stafford says. “I always enjoyed the sound of the trumpet, and one of my grandmothers had a cousin’s trumpet in her closet, and I was drawn to it.”
Still, “I was advised by my teachers that if I only played jazz I would destroy my classical chops,” remembers Stafford, set to take the stage with his quintet in a tribute to Philadelphia born trumpeter Lee Morgan in the Kimmel Center’s Jazz Up Close Series, Feb. 25.
Paying close attention but still drawn to jazz, while pursuing a music education degree at the University of Maryland, Stafford played with the school’s jazz band, and it was during that time that he began to immerse himself in jazz, listening to everything he could get his hands on. He said one of his most profound musical influences was Clifford Brown’s rendition of “Cherokee.”
By 1988, Stafford says he had the good fortune to meet and receive advice from Wynton Marsalis, who suggested that Stafford study with Dr. William Fielder at Rutgers University. It was during his time at Rutgers that he was invited to join Bobby Watson’s Group, Horizon.
The young trumpeter received a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from the University of Maryland in 1988, as well as a Masters of Music from Rutgers University in 1993.
“Over the years I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet, study with and play with some of the world’s outstanding musicians,” says Stafford.
Since the mid-1990s, Stafford has performed with groups such as Benny Golson’s Sextet, Tyner’s Sextet, the Kenny Barron Sextet, the Jimmy Heath Big Band, and the Jon Faddis Orchestra.
Currently, he is a member of the Grammy award-winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, as well as a member of the Clayton Brothers Quintet and the Frank Wess Quintet. He also played an integral part on several albums, including Diana Krall’s Grammy-nominated “From This Moment On” and others.
He’s also recorded five of his own albums, the latest being “This Side of Strayhorn.”
He believes in the future of jazz, and says, “If I didn’t do what I do I’d feel pretty bleak about the future. But I travel around to different high schools and colleges and see music being taken to a higher level than I could ever have imagined. I see people making inroads in creating some of the best possible music ever. So I feel very optimistic about the future of jazz.”
And Stafford himself is helping to achieve that end, serving as professor of music and director of jazz studies at Temple University, where he was the recent recipient of the University’s “Creative Achievement Award.”
He says years from now he’d still like to be teaching and becoming more proficient as a composer and arranger. “The reason I enjoy both teaching and playing is I believe it all goes hand-in-hand. Whatever I learn on the bandstand is what I can share with my students. And, in return, they share things with me which is very, very helpful.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 893-1999.