Terell Stafford: Pushing Music and Community
Another big part of Stafford, his life and career, is teaching. It's important to him, he said, and he tries to impart the history of the trumpet and the music on those he tutors. Terell had an undergraduate degree in education, but hadn't really applied it until he got some advice from one of his bosses Bill Cosby when he was on the musical staff, under the direction of Shirley Scott, for the TV show "You Bet Your Life." Cosby suggested teaching at his alma mater, Temple University in Philadelphia. "He's the guy that signed my paychecks every two weeks, so I said, 'good suggestion,'" Stafford chuckled, "and I did it."
"I teach a good amount," he said. "I teach at Temple University now. I'm there three days a week. My schedule's fairly flexible there. They're very supportive of what I do. And then in the summer, since I have my summers off, I do a couple camps. This week I'm doing this [Skidmore]. Next week I do a camp with Christian McBride in Aspen. I'm off for a week. Then I go off on the road to Spain for a week. I'm doing a record, a CD and a concert with a local band. Then I'm going on the QE2 with Slide Hampton, a Dizzy Gillespie alumni group. So I try to get all my heavy touring done in the summer, and dedicate the fall and spring to teaching, but I still do tours then.
"But I really enjoy it. There are times that I don't. When I'm not reaching the students, or I feel like the students don't want to be reached. It goes both ways. Those times I don't and I appreciate my playing part. I can leave that and go do a concert with some great musicians and feel totally inspired, and go out on the road for a week and come home and say, 'OK. Let me try this concept again. Let me try this approach. Let me work on this.' And it's a great balance because it I think it's expanding me as a person. To teach and to share. Plus I learn a lot from the students. It challenges me. If they can't do something, how do I show them how to do it? How do I know how to do it? Have I ever tried it? All these questions go through my head and it challenges me. When you go home tonight, you better try to work on this in case this question comes up in the future. Which helps me, because I go play with someone else and whatever we were working on with this particular student may come out on the road with Kenny Barron. It may come up in some music."
That's a healthy outlook for a musician. Especially one of Stafford's caliber, and one who has an affect on young musicians coming up. (It might be worthy to note that bassist Hodge on the new CD is a young former student of Stafford, getting his chance to shine a bit.) Stafford also doesn't rest on his laurels as a player. He's a guy with great technique, but don't tell him that. He's got more work to do.
"I want to make more opportunities for practicing. I love to practice. The trumpet does not come easy for me. First of all, it's not an easy instrument. It's not something I just put to my lips. I love to practice. Dedicate myself to it, so I just want to keep doing that. Get better and better and better."
His outlook helps him deal with the jazz industry as a whole, which is not very friendly of late for most of the working folk. There are a lot of complaints. And a lot of people not working. But Stafford is staying away from the negative.
"Things have been OK for me, but it's not always about me. I wish the whole community were a lot happier. I think that everything is a cycle. Time is a cycle, music is a cycle, swing is a cycle. Right now, we're just going through a cycle. I think if we can hang in there, we can make it through this. But right now it is hard. Opportunities aren't there like they have been. It's funny because musicians have months that are called our dark months. Not much work comes in. Right now those dark months have just been extended. But you always know, like Bobby Watson always told me, you always know when a dark month comes there's gonna be a good one coming up, so just try to hang in there.
"That's what I feel like. This summer isn't what other summers have been, but it's going to come around. This month may have been better then last month. I always try to be as optimistic as I can. Because right now everybody's bashing it, and the more you bash it the more you discourage the people who are trying to support it. That's how I look at it. If I can lift it, encourage it, and keep supporting it, we can make it a positive thing. I just see all the bashing from all the musicians and everyone so down on it. It's not this and it's not that. The listeners are going to say, 'If it's not that anymore, then I might as well just go.' And the scene goes down the hill.
"I think things will come around. I don't feel totally discouraged, like I'm going to give up. We just have to make it through these hard times. Hang in there. Look out for one another. If a gig comes up and somebody's not working that much, hook em up. Try to make some opportunities for everyone.