Terell Stafford, trumpet
The title of his most recent album, Between Two Worlds, perfectly encapsulates the boundary-crossing life and career of renowned trumpet player, composer, and educator Terell Stafford. Hailed as “one of the great players of our time” by the late piano icon McCoy Tyner, Stafford unites any number of dichotomies in his music: jazz and classical traditions, stunning virtuosity and profound emotion, stylistic eclecticism and an immediately identifiable voice.
At the same time he straddles worlds in a variety of ways in his career, juggling roles as a thriving musician and an acclaimed educator, or as a visionary bandleader and an in-demand sideman for some of the music’s most legendary performers. Perhaps most importantly, he strives to strike that always precarious balance between a professional touring musician and a loving husband and father to his family.
Looking back over Stafford’s evolution, The New Yorker called him, “a distinguished bandleader and composer whose horn playing still startles with its verve and conviction.”
Those facets can be heard vividly on more than 180 recordings over the last three decades. That includes a dozen albums under Stafford’s own name, from his 1995 debut Time To Let Go to Between Two Worlds in 2023. Along the way he’s paid homage to formative influences including Lee Morgan and Billy Strayhorn and celebrated the tightly-knit and incredibly gifted community of musicians with whom he’s surrounded himself both on the bandstand and in the halls of academia.
In addition to the Terell Stafford Quintet, Stafford is the founder and Managing and Artistic Director of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia (JOP), a big band composed of a generation-spanning roster of stellar Philly musicians, dedicated to celebrating the legacies of the many influential players and composers who emerged from the City of Brotherly Love.
As the Director of Jazz Studies and Chair of Instrumental Studies at Philadelphia’s Temple University, Stafford has become a nurturing mentor to new generations of up-and-coming jazz musicians. He’s helped to guide the university and its students to impressive victories at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jack Rudin Jazz Championship, winning the inaugural event in 2020; and to grow the school’s Grammy-nominated record label, BCM&D, with recordings by the Temple University Jazz Band (including guest artists including Christian McBride, Joey DeFrancesco, Branford Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Jon Faddis, and Dick Oatts) and all-star ensembles featuring Stafford and his fellow faculty members.
Born in Miami and raised in Chicago, Stafford began studying classical trumpet at the age of 13. He first encountered jazz while earning his degree in music education at the University of Maryland – a practical compromise urged by his parents while he pursued a career as a classical musician. A fortuitous meeting with Wynton Marsalis led Stafford to study with Dr. William Fielder at Rutgers University, a vital mentorship that open the young trumpeter’s mind to explore a diverse range of genres and styles. Marsalis has remained a strong supporter, later inviting Stafford to perform with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and offering guidance as Stafford developed his own Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia.
It was at that point that Stafford began to delve deeply into the history of jazz, finding foundational influences in bebop greats like Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan. During that time he also connected with saxophonist Tim Warfield, who would go on to become one of his closest friends and collaborators, and who remains a key member of the Terell Stafford Quintet today. The two frequented jam sessions along the east coast, finding a vibrant home at the famed Philadelphia club Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, where the house band featured such luminaries as organist Shirley Scott, pianist Sid Simmons, and drummer Mickey Roker.
Scott proved to be another guiding light for Stafford, enlisting him and Warfield to join her quintet as well as the house band for a revival of the TV game show You Bet Your Life. Both would make memorable early contributions to Scott’s final studio album, A Walkin’ Thing, in 1992.
While at Rutgers, Stafford was also invited to join Bobby Watson’s Horizon, a group that the saxophonist formed in the image of his own proving ground, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Through that experience Stafford went on to record with Watson’s big band on the 1993 release Tailor Made, and to join McCoy Tyner’s Latin All-Star Band, helping to hone his skills alongside Latin jazz giants including trombonist Steve Turre, flutist Dave Valentin, and percussionist Jerry Gonzalez.
Since that time Stafford has played an integral role in such legend-fronted groups as the McCoy Tyner Sextet, Benny Golson Sextet, Kenny Barron Quintet, Frank Wess Quintet, Jimmy Heath Quintet and Big Band, Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Alumni Band. He has been a longtime member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which garnered a Grammy Award in 2009 as Best Large Ensemble for their album Live at the Village Vanguard.
Stafford has enjoyed fruitful tenures with the Grammy-nominated Clayton Brothers band and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, as well as with drummer Matt Wilson’s eclectic group Arts and Crafts. He has performed with bands led by Cedar Walton, Sadao Watanabe, and Herbie Mann, while his most recent collaborations include the iconic saxophonist Charles McPherson and the Grammy-anointed Best New Artist, rising star singer Samara Joy. Stafford has also composed new music for the PRISM Saxophone Quartet.
Following the release of Time To Let Go (Candid) in 1995, Stafford released Centripetal Force (Candid) in 1996, Fields of Gold (Nagel-Heyer) in 2000, New Beginnings (MAXJAZZ) in 2003, and the live Taking Chances (MAXJAZZ) in 2007, a catalog that includes such acclaimed musicians as Mulgrew Miller, Bill Cunliffe, Antonio Hart, Ron Blake, Stefon Harris, Victor Lewis, Edward Simon, Steve Wilson, Bruce Barth, Derrick Hodge, Dick Oatts, and, of course, Tim Warfield.
In 2011 he released his gorgeous take on the music of Billy Strayhorn with This Side of Strayhorn (MAXJAZZ), and in 2015 earned an NAACP Image Award nomination for Brotherlee Love, his homage to the late, great Lee Morgan. He co-led a quintet with sax giant Dick Oatts for 2009’s Bridging the Gap, and united with Oatts and other Temple faculty and friends (including Warfield, Barth, Byron Landham, Justin Faulkner and Mike Boone) for Family Feeling in 2018 and Fly With the Wind in 2023 (both BCM&D).