Jazz legend Wess to perform
at Temple Jazz Band concert
If you go
|What: Temple Jazz Band concert celebrating Count Basie and featuring Frank Wess
When: Sunday, April 3, at 3 p.m.
Where: Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
Practice may make perfect, as the saying goes, but to Terell Stafford, it’s performance that really makes a difference.
“It’s no small part of my students’ education,” said Stafford, director of the Temple University Jazz Band and professor and director of jazz studies at the Boyer College of Music and Dance.
“Performing lets them discover what it really feels like to be a professional. And to have the opportunity to share the stage with an icon, a living jazz legend like Frank Wess … that’s more than inspiring. It motivates the students to play at a higher level.”
On Sunday, April 3, the Temple Jazz Band will perform a tribute concert celebrating the centennial of the birth of Count Basie, with the legendary Wess on tenor saxophone and flute.
Senior Yoichi Uzeki, who plays piano in the Jazz Band's rhythm section, wrote the flute chart that jazz legend Frank Wess will play with the students at the band's April 3 Count Basie tribute concert at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. "It's amazing! It's unbelievable!" Uzeki said of the upcoming experience.
“Playing behind a great artist propels the students to perpetuate that pride of wanting to do their best at every performance. That’s something that you simply can’t teach,” said Stafford, who, in addition to his teaching duties at Temple, is an internationally known jazz trumpeter with a thriving career as a performer and recording artist.
At the concert, Wess and renowned jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis will be honored with the Boyer College’s Jazz Masters Hall of Fame Award, in recognition of the legendary jazz artists’ extraordinary careers and their ongoing support of jazz education.
It is especially fitting that Wess will be playing the tribute concert: The 83-year-old joined the Count Basie band in 1953 and soon became a featured soloist. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Wess led his own Basie-style big band, putting his own signature on the Basie tradition as a big band leader and arranger.
“The concert is a celebration of Count Basie’s contributions to the music,” Stafford said. “He was the very essence of the big band style, with its distinctive style and personality. He’s the icon of this music. When I teach it, that’s what I teach.”
For one of the 19 student musicians, there will be an additional cause for celebration: 28-year-old senior Yoichi Uzeki, who plays piano in the Temple Jazz Band’s rhythm section, wrote his own arrangement of the Frank Loesser song “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” with a flute feature chart that Wess will play with the students at the April 3 concert.
“It’s amazing! It’s unbelievable!” said Uzeki, who grew up in Tokyo and briefly majored in economics in college there before coming to the United States and the jazz studies program at Temple’s Boyer College. “I’m just a student and didn’t expect such a great player would be playing my chart!”
When he arrived at Temple in 2001, Uzeki actually missed the auditions for the Jazz Band. “I was attending an orientation for international students,” he recalled. “I went to a rehearsal where the band’s piano player was late, and Terell asked if I would sit in.”
It was Stafford’s encouragement, as well as a class he took last semester studying big-band arranging with Grammy nominee Bill Cunliff of the Boyer College faculty, that nurtured Uzeki’s own interests in writing and arranging.
“And Count Basie is one of my favorite bands in the world!”
The day after the Kimmel Center concert, the “performance experience” continues when Stafford, Wess and the Jazz Band take to the road and play for a sold-out crowd at Dizzy’s in New York.
“Playing in major venues where students hear some of their idols in the profession is vital to the morale of the program,” Stafford said. “For them, this is a dream come true.”
The following month, the Temple Jazz Band will go on the road again, to yet another major venue, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. They will play a weekend of concerts (May 6-7) with two sets each night — backing none other than the Terell Stafford Quartet in a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughn.
“I don’t usually play with my students,” Stafford said, “because I want the spotlight to shine on them — even with Frank Wess, I want the students to shine. But when the Kennedy Center booked my quartet, it was their suggestion to bring in the Temple band for the big-band sound.
“You can educate students about what they should do and how to execute it, but you can’t teach the performing experience.”
For Stafford and his students, it’s all part of a perfect music education.
- By Harriet Goodheart