ON A HIGH NOTE
Photo credit: Joseph V. Labolito
Terell Stafford has toured the world as a premier jazz trumpeter. He has performed in renowned venues including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on the film soundtrack for A Bronx Tale. He is a member of the Grammy–winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and frontman for the Terell Stafford Quintet.
OCCUPATION: Laura H. Carnell Professor of Jazz Studies, director of jazz studies, chair of instrumental studies
LOCATION: Boyer College of Music and Dance, Main Campus
Why did you take up the trumpet?
I played the viola for a year before I started playing the trumpet, and I was horrible at it. My teacher was discouraging; he told me I had no musical ability. I switched to the trumpet because I was fascinated with it and had always loved the way it sounded.
You are classically trained, but switched to jazz while studying music education at the University of Maryland. How do classical music and jazz compare?
In classical music, what you do in practice is exactly what will happen on stage. But jazz is completely spontaneous. You can take more risks. You can go with how the moment feels.
What artists populate your iPod?
I probably should open myself up to other genres of music, but because I came to jazz so late in life, I immerse myself in the greats: Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Blue Mitchell and Lee Morgan, who is one of my favorites.
How do performing and teaching intertwine?
I think they feed off one another. I draw from my performances to prepare students for things they might encounter as musicians. For example, many of them ask me how to overcome feelings of nervousness, and I tell them to focus on how the other musicians are playing and become a selfless musician. When you give more, you get more, and you´re able to saturate yourself in their sounds. I also can draw from what I tell my students in class to make my performances better; I´ll recall a time when I´ve told them to relax or slow down when they play, and I´ll try to do the same when I perform.
What advice do you have for budding musicians who might be facing the same discouragement you did early on?
All we have to live on is our dreams. I had a dream to play the trumpet, and no matter what, I knew I was going to do that. I´ve had people try to take that dream away from me, but following it has allowed me to do amazing things and meet amazing people. Despite what others say, if it is meant to happen, it will.
Listen to selections from Stafford's latest album, This Side of Strayhorn.