Terell Stafford: Trial and Inspiration
AAJ: Who are some of the contemporary players that get your attention?
TS: I like Jim McNeely's writing, which is pretty cutting edge. I like Dave Douglas and some of the projects and sounds he puts together. Uri Caine is really interesting, and I love what Ambrose Akinmusire is doing. I also love Gerald Clayton's trio records. Jeremy Pelt is a great writer; I love to listen to his writing. There are just a slew of young guys. I just love to hear when people have taken their artistry to another level. I can appreciate that and respect it a lot.
There are a lot of contemporary sounds in a lot of the masters too. I still love some of the things that John Clayton is doing. He's heavily influenced by Thad Jones but he takes [that influence] to a whole different level. It's the same thing with Dennis Mackrel. Before Bob Brookmeyer passed away he was writing material for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's next record. When you hear some of the newer material that Bob was writing, it's very inspirational, because he was totally going with the times, and the colors and the sounds we hear now in the music.
There's contemporary and modern in everyone. Even tonight, I'll be playing the music of Frank Wess, and some of his compositions are timeless. They were modern and cutting edge when he wrote them and it's the same thing now.
AAJ: You were recently on tour in Japan with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. How did those audiences enjoy the group's repertoire?
TS: The Japanese love the music of Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. You name a tune and it's like a rock concert; you say, "We're going to do 'A-That's Freedom'" and they start going crazy, screaming and singing it. It's pretty remarkable.
AAJ: Do you receive similar responses from audiences here in the States?
TS: The response is still really positive, especially when the band is out doing some of the high school or college festivals, because so many high school and college bands have played this music, and for them to hear it the way Thad intended is pretty unique. Some places do have access to this music more than others, so we (all of us) can take a little bit of that access for granted. For Japan, the band gets over once a year, and we do workshops over there for some of the students, so it's a really unique situation. They're not taking the music for granted because they don't get to see a group of that calibre that often.
AAJ: What do you see as the major developments to come in jazz, stylistically or in reaching out to new audiences?
TS: To me, it's more important that the musicians have a strong foundation in what the music is about and where the music has come from. If they find different avenues to grow, then we have to be open-minded enough to support that. Then we do our own thing, and a good mixture of different personalities, different styles, different talents and different historical approaches makes an interesting community.
I'm very optimistic about it all. I'm optimistic about the directions of some of the younger musicians. I'm even optimistic about the direction of some of the masters, [such as] Wayne Shorter and some of the other artists who really paved the way for us and where we're going. Tonight I'm playing at Dizzy's [Club Coca-Cola] for Frank Wess' ninetieth birthday celebration with The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. Just to say I'm doing it with the Dizzy band and Frank Wess' ninetieth birthday, it's nothing but history, playing the music of Dizzy Gillespie or the arrangements of Slide Hampton or Dennis Mackrel, or a Frank Wess chart That Frank Wess chart could have been played by the Basie orchestra, and I could be playing the part of Ray Nance or maybe Snooky Young]. You never know.
AAJ: In your last interview with All About Jazz and throughout our discussion, you describe jazz as a community. Back In 2003 you said you "wish the whole community were happier" and also describe a "cycle." Has the community gotten happier since then?
TS: The community has gotten happier because it's been infiltrated by people coming up who see that there are more opportunities, and the opportunities that are there can be created, and they can be created amongst the community. I look at Gerald Clayton, Ambrose and other players whom I just have so much respect for, and when I talk to them they say, "we're having a session, if you want to come to our session, you're invited." These guys are getting together for sessions all the time, so they're working on their musical concepts and on each others' tunes and their own writing. They're also practicing, and they're going back and fixing, and then having another session, while also building their reading skills and getting their concepts together. They're doing it all as a community, going out and playing with each other and supporting one another.
It's a cycle. It's the same thing that may have happened ten years ago, [or] thirty years ago, forty, fifty [or even] sixty years ago. So I'm seeing that cycle now with these young musicians, and it's really inspiring! I love talking to some of the younger guys like Gerald, [hearing] the way they're thinking about music and the concepts they have, and the things they want to do to grow. That really inspires me as well.
The community is getting happier, because people are really seeing that if you want an opportunity, you have to make it. If you want some place to play, create it, find places. Do things, be heard, and opportunities will come your way, as opposed to sitting around complaining about what's not there.
AAJ: In that same interview, you describe a "lifelong quest," that there's always more to learn...
AAJ: So where else do you see your own quest going?
TS: From a couple of hours I spend practicing a day, I want to be more efficient with my practice, to use my practice time as best I can. I want to continue to work on my focus and concentration and really fine tune my playing and continue to grow as a trumpeter. I want to really have the patience to become a better composer and arranger, so that I can someday look at a Real Book and see some tunes that may be considered a jazz standard, so to speak. Finally to arrange more, I want to pursue that area as well. I [also] want to be a better improviser. I want to expose myself to more music, to more history, to more solos, to more of my contemporaries, to the whole gamut, so that I continue to develop as I develop as a person.
That's the unique thing about music and teaching: who I am and what I say I am now is a result of trial and error for the past twenty years. Through that process I've seen myself change as both a teacher and as a player, and that's what I want to continue. I never want to get to the point where I'm saying, "Well, I've taught for twenty years, and I have that down." I want to keep thinking, "I've passed some knowledge along for twenty years, now it's time for me to find some new things to pass along. Where can I get them from?"
Terell Stafford, This Side of Strayhorn (MAXJAZZ, 2011)
Odean Pope, Odean's List (In + Out, 2010)
Houston Person, Moment to Moment (HighNote, 2010)
Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Detroit (Mack Avenue, 2009)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Monday Night Live at The Village Vanguard (Planet Arts, 2008)
Terell Stafford, Taking Chances: Live at the Dakota (MAXJAZZ, 2007)
Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts, The Scenic Route (Palmetto, 2007)
Diana Krall, From This Moment On (Verve, 2006)
Bob Mintzer Big Band, Old School New Lessons (MCG, 2006)
Clayton Brothers, Back in the Swing of Things (Hyena, 2005)
Terell Stafford,New Beginnings (MAXJAZZ, 2003)
Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars, Things to Come (2002)
Terell Stafford, Fields of Gold (Nagel Heyer, 2001)
Nancy Wilson, A Nancy Wilson Christmas (MCG Jazz, 2001)
Bobby Watson, Quiet As It's Kept (RED, 1999)
Terell Stafford, Centripetal Force (Candid, 1997)
Herbie Mann, America/Brasil (Lightyear, 1997)
Terell Stafford, Time to Let Go (Candid, 1995)
Bobby Watson, Present Tense (Columbia, 1992)
Pages 1, 4: Jimmy Ryan
Pages 2, 3: Steven Sussman