It all began for Terell Stafford when he found a trumpet belonging to his cousin at his grandparents’ home.
“Ever since I first saw it, I wanted to play it,” recalls Stafford, a man once hailed by piano legend McCoy Tyner as “one of the greatest players of our time, a fabulous trumpet player.”
Indeed, almost from that very first moment he got the trumpet in his hands, Stafford refused to put it down. “Even from the time I was in middle school and began learning to play it, my parents had to practically pry it out of my hands at the end of the day to stop me from practicing so much. It was just that much fun.”
Born in Miami, Stafford’s family eventually settled in Maryland where the young man first started his serious musical career by learning the classics on scholarship at the University of Maryland.
“I thought I was going to be a classical trumpeter until I got to grad school at Rutgers University and a couple of life-altering things happened to me,” Stafford explains. “First, I met a great trumpeter named Bud Herseth, principal of the Chicago Symphony for years. We got to talking and I asked him what he liked to do in his spare time.”
Herseth told Stafford that in his spare time, after church, he liked to go play in a Dixieland band. “I think he was just letting me know how important it was for all young musicians to learn how to improvise because it really makes your ears stronger,” Stafford says. “And that was one thing that helped get me into jazz.”
Eventually, by meeting others who were willing to give him tips and pointers on the subject, Stafford says he soon began getting three times as much work in the jazz field as he was in classical.
“I soon figured playing jazz was my destiny so I just followed it. And here I am today.”
And where he is today is one of the giants in the world of jazz. He is a member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which was awarded a Grammy in 2009 for Best Jazz Ensemble – “Live at the Village Vanguard.”
Additionally, he is the Director of Jazz Studies and Chair of Instrumental Studies at Temple University, founder and leader of the Terell Stafford Quintet and Director of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia.
Today, Stafford is also Artistic Director of Jazz for the Philly POPS which is currently celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month during April with educational content, masterclasses, and performances for Philadelphia School District students, along with a virtual All-City Jazz Festival at month’s end.
“With my students I train them to do it all because I want them to be as prepared, if not more prepared than I was, because this is not an easy career,” Stafford concludes.
“But I feel this way – if you’re prepared at the moment of your calling, then great things can happen to you. But if you’re not, then you’ll be over-looked and someone else will get the work. And I assure them that everything I tell them is something that I have practiced and something that led to my success. And that we can all share the same success if we devote ourselves to our music. It’s really not that difficult.”