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February 2012: Terell Stafford Quintet: The Music of Lee Morgan

RJ Johnson By

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Terell Stafford Quintet

Perelman Theater, The Kimmel Center

February 25, 2012

Philadelphia native, trumpeter Terell Stafford led his quintet through two sets of original arrangements dedicated to legendary trumpeter Lee Morgan in the Perelman Theater, located inside Philadelphia's Kimmel Center. The performance was part of the Kimmel Center's 2011-2012 "Jazz Up Close" Series, which has been designed to expose new audiences to accomplished jazz artists native to Philadelphia.

The series has also included tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, and will continue with a performance from pianist Danilo Perez. On this evening, Stafford's performance was preceded by a performance from the Danny Jonokuchi Quintet. The band is led by trumpeter Jonokuchi, and also included pianist Tim Brey, bassist Justin Sekelewski, tenor saxophonist Tal Shtuhl, and drummer Carl Moritz—all Temple students and alumni, whose music program is led by Stafford.

After taking the stage, Stafford introduced each member of the band as "his best friend in the world," illustrating the inherent camaraderie between the musicians. Stafford was joined by pianist Bruce Barth (a fellow Temple faculty member), Philadelphia-based tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield, drummer Dana Hall and bassist Peter Washington. Each musician is well respected within the jazz community not just as instrumentalists, but also as sought-after educators and prolific composers.

The Perelman Theater is usually reserved for chamber classical groups, and it is certainly a rare experience to listen to jazz in a room with such crystal clear acoustics. This was especially evident during Stafford's solos throughout the evening. Stafford began his musical career as a classical trumpeter, and switched to jazz fairly late compared to many of his peers. Stafford was able to apply the virtuosic technique and assertive tone, developed as a classical musician, directly to jazz. Despite jazz being less than an easily mastered art form, Stafford has leveraged his unique training to become a stronger instrumentalist. His sustained notes never showed the slightest sign of stress, and Stafford seemed to have no trouble with utilizing the full range of his trumpet. His solo on the opening tune, Lee Morgan's "Hocus-Pocus," demonstrated a thorough knowledge of post-bop vocabulary with a natural feel and inflection. Stafford is unique in that he possesses the technical command of a classical trumpet soloist and the lexicon of a lifelong jazz devotee.

Stafford's band was the perfect fit for his style of aggressive yet precise playing. Washington often took unaccompanied solos, in which he displayed nearly unmatched technical ability and flawless rhythmic feel. Even without the help of a drummer, Washington kept perfect time during his solos and pushed the band forward with his walking bass lines. Warfield's hard bop style was matched by Hall, who often fed rhythmic ideas to the band while responding to the soloists' every move. Barth's sound was a perfect contrast to the rest of the band; he possesses a lighter touch and more legato linear approach than either Warfield or Stafford, which led to both interesting improvisations and a complete shift in the group's dynamic within each of his solos.

The show was a fitting tribute to the contributions of Lee Morgan's virtuosic trumpet playing. Be sure to look for more upcoming performances in the Jazz Up Close series, if you are in the Philadelphia area.

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