Multitasking musician

Terell Stafford the teacher is credited with being unusually accessible, an attribute learned from his mentors. "They'd make time for me and my dumb questions. . . . I want to pass along to my students what some of these folks have passed along to me."
Terell Stafford the teacher is credited with being unusually accessible, an attribute learned from his mentors. "They'd make time for me and my dumb questions. . . . I want to pass along to my students what some of these folks have passed along to me." (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)

Philadelphia jazz trumpeter Terell Stafford is a teacher, player, bandleader, composer, traveling recently to points north, south, and west. "I don't sleep much," he admits.

Posted: February 21, 2012

By the end of the 1996 comic film Multiplicity, Michael Keaton's character has learned that having four clones of oneself can lead to far more complications than conveniences. Perhaps trumpet virtuoso Terell Stafford is simply too busy ever to have watched the film in its entirety, but he has taken away the opposite message.

"Four people at different spots all representing one person?" Stafford asked wistfully last week, sitting in his office at Temple University with his trumpet resting on his lap. "There's times I wish I could do that."

It's not hard to see why. In just the last couple of weeks, one clone could have driven to New York to play at the Village Vanguard while another caught the train to D.C. for the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, a third flew to Idaho for the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, and a fourth Stafford could stick close to Philly and prepare for his tribute concert to trumpet legend Lee Morgan at the Kimmel Center on Saturday.

In the longer term, Stafford clones could handle his duties as Temple's director of jazz studies and chair of instrumental studies, while others fill his spots in drummer Matt Wilson's freewheeling Arts and Crafts quartet, the more straight-ahead Clayton Brothers Band led by siblings John and Jeff Clayton, and his own duties as bandleader and composer.

"I don't sleep much," Stafford admits, shaking his head. "I'm juggling a lot, but in the long term I hope it's worth it."

Stafford's academic and artistic success certainly shows signs of paying off. This Side of Strayhorn, his 2011 CD paying tribute to composer Billy Strayhorn, has won him some of the best reviews of his career, and a sequel is in the works. Meanwhile, at Temple, he took on the instrumental studies chair two years ago, supplementing his position as director of jazz studies, which he's held since 1996. His multiple affinities are represented geographically by his home in Robbinsville, N.J. - one hour from the jazz mecca of Manhattan in one direction, one hour from the Temple campus in the other.

He encourages the same balance in his students, if singer Joanna Pascale is any indication. The Temple alum is now teaching at the school while maintaining her three-nights-a-week slot at Loews Hotel in Center City, and has been adding vocals to Stafford's Strayhorn project during the most recent engagements.

"Terell is an incredible listener," Pascale says. "He was one of the most available teachers I had ever had; you can go to him and share and he's very present. He's similar on the bandstand, very attentive and open. He encourages unity and brings out the best in people."

That lesson was one Stafford, 45, learned from his own mentors. "Bobby Watson, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Heath," he says, rattling off some of the jazz greats he's worked with during his career. "They made themselves so available to me. They're playing at the top of their fame, but still they'd make time for me and my dumb questions or problems. I want to pass along to my students what some of these folks have passed along to me."

Stafford's current dual role at Temple brings his own musical path full circle. When he picked up the trumpet at age 13, he had his sights set on the classical music world, inspired by French virtuoso Maurice André. His attentions turned more toward jazz during his graduate studies at Rutgers University, where he met saxophonist David Sánchez and pianist Kenny Barron while traveling home to D.C. on weekends to participate in jam sessions. It was there that he met saxophonist Tim Warfield, passing through from his home in York, Pa. Warfield became a lifelong friend and bandmate. He'll be sharing the front line with Stafford this weekend at the Kimmel, as he does regularly as part of the trumpeter's working quintet.

Organist Shirley Scott wound up hiring both Stafford and Warfield for her working band and for the ensemble she led as musical director for Bill Cosby's 1992-93 series You Bet Your Life. Both Scott and Cosby encouraged (make that insisted) that Stafford give back through education, leading to his first teaching job at Cheyney University.

Having come to jazz later than many of his contemporaries, Stafford relied on mentors such as Scott and Cosby and his own peers to introduce him to the music's pantheon. It was Barron, he recalls, who turned him on to Lee Morgan, the Philly-born trumpet giant who was a pioneer of the hard-bop sound before meeting a tragic end, shot to death at Slug's, a New York jazz club, by his common-law wife in 1972, when he was just 33.

"My grandmother always had me go to church with her," Stafford recalls. "And I would hear the soulfulness in the church, how powerful not only the message but the music was and how it could really affect emotion. Then when I would hear Lee Morgan play, I would again hear how powerful the music was and how it affected emotion. I also realized some of the same techniques I was using in classical music, but in a different context. I grasped that affinity."

For the Kimmel tribute, Stafford plans to perform some of Morgan's most familiar pieces along with some lesser-known compositions. He's being aided by trumpet student Danny Jonokuchi, a senior at Temple, in exploring the Morgan catalog.

The task, Jonokuchi says, is a perfect supplement to his studies: "The biggest lesson Terell has taught me is to have a huge respect for the history of the music, but to find your own voice. It's important to keep digging into the history, to understand it and how it influences how you express yourself. Mining one individual's approach to playing music is always a truly incredible experience, and with Lee Morgan specifically, it's about understanding how they made these simple arrangements sound so intense and captivating."

With his tribute to Morgan, Stafford plans to practice what he's been preaching to students like Jonokuchi. "I want to be myself, I want the band that I've chosen to be themselves, and then we'll approach Lee Morgan's music as we hear it," he says. "You could hear him singing through the trumpet. The trumpet was merely a vehicle to express who he was. There was rasp, there was grit, there was personality, there was sass. Exactly who he was as a person was inside of his sound, and that's what I loved about it. So I'm a little nervous but excited to pay homage to such a master."

Listen to Terell Stafford talk about Lee Morgan's influence on his music at

Terell Stafford plays and talks about his influences at

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