Terell Stafford: Pushing Music and Community
Part of that quest has led him to New Beginnings, a sharp CD with pianist Mulgrew Miller, drummer Dana Hall, and bassist Derrick Hodge at the core, with help from alto saxophonists Steve Wilson, Dick Oatts and Jesse Davis, and tenor man Harry Allen. The recording is sweet, staring with a couple standards, segueing into a three-song "New Beginnings Suite," which kicks, and then into a few more familiar tunes.
"Originally, I wanted to do an all-alto project, so I was going to have Dick and Steve and Jesse Davis and Bobby Watson. Bobby couldn't get out of his teaching schedule. All these guys have played in my quintet from time to time. When people play, you hear certain people on songs and you say, 'I like the way they just played this song.' I mean, they play every song well. It was my opportunity to have the people that I hear on certain songs play those certain songs. And it was really cool."
The suite segment came from a work he was previously commissioned to do for a New York City-based organization, but it became personal as he wrote it. And it's the highlight of the recording, moving, intense at times, with adventuresome playing for all involved.
"Because of things I was going through with my life, the movements of the suite make up the new beginnings. The first movement, which is when I thought back and reflected on where I've come from. And the second movement is about my good friend Faddis introducing me to my soulmate now, getting me back on track. And the last movement is dedicated to my soulmate. That's how that suite came about and it's pretty much the theme of the record."
Not bad for a guy who hadn't been on the scene as long as his peers. It was right out of Rutgers that he got his first big break, joining Bobby Watson's Horizons band. His debut as a leader came in 1995 with Time to Let Go, followed in 1997 by Centripedal Force and then Fields of Gold.
"After my first year in jazz I met Bobby Watson. And I was in his band Horizon for seven years. I never thought that after one year in jazz I'd be playing at the Village Vanguard. That's how I got huge opportunities. That was my first big break. Because of that, I met so many people. Bobby exposed me to so many people. When the band disbanded, I thought that was it. My career was over. But I met a lot of different people and played with them. McCoy Tyner. Cedar Walton called. A lot of people started calling."
Stafford also had to play catch-up in his development, moving from the classical realm into jazz. He started listening to everything he could. "Early on, I would say Freddie, Miles, Lee Morgan. I learned a lot from studying them. But there were still things that were missing. I needed to go back and study the legacy. Louis Armstrong, Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart. All the masters. So I did that. And then I had a whole new understanding about the trumpet and where the history had come from. I appreciated Miles more. I appreciated Dizzy more. I appreciated Clifford more. Freddie Hubbard. Woody Shaw. Because I didn't pay much attention. Since I came in so late, I listened to what everybody else was listening to, so I could catch up to them. Then when I went back and did the homework, I saw that there is so much happening, it's refreshing. A lot of people don't see it. They say that stuff is old. It's been done. But there's so much conception behind it."
Through it all, he has little desire to dig back into classical music performance.
The trumpeter still practices classical music, and teaches some of it, but he doesn't miss performing it. A classical performance last fall made him "a nervous wreck," and made him appreciate the land of jazz.
"It's a different type of preparation. With jazz, the way I prepare myself for a concert is I make sure all my tools are there so I can use different vehicles to get out of things, out of changes. But in classical music, it's not about tools. It's just about the music, cut and dried. Do you have this passage down? Is this passage down? Is this passage down? And it has to be the same way. People that come to hear the music are listening for that. Is this passage down? Is this passage down? Whereas people that come to hear jazz are listening to see, 'Man, let me hear what I can feel.' Not to say there's no feeling in classical music. I'm not saying that. But I was a nervous wreck getting up on that stage in front of that orchestra. The day after that concert, I went on the road in jazz. I went up on the stage and it was a packed room and I never felt so comfortable in all my life. It was like being in a bathtub with bubbles, you know what I mean?"