Posted April 17, 2009

Stafford stresses the importance of creativity, emotion

It’s Monday afternoon and Terell Stafford is conducting the last trumpet lesson of the day. Sitting in his office, which doubles as a teaching studio, he works with a music education student who is refining his technique. Stafford scats a few measures to demonstrate how intricacies like tapping the foot or relaxing the jaw make a difference in improving one’s sound.

“Make it swing,” he encourages the student before they begin to play together.

In addition to the technical and artistic elements students must learn in order to receive a music degree, Stafford hopes he conveys that creativity and emotion are essential to making music. It’s one thing to play a set of notes, he explains, playing with feeling is another.

Terell Stafford with members of the Temple University Jazz Band
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University
Boyer College of Music and Dance Professor Terell Stafford with members of the Temple University Jazz Band.


“I’ve experienced the same creative blocks that my students are going to face,” Stafford said. “I try to encourage them to make beautiful music, to really express their emotions through their music. That’s what makes the difference between a great artist and a not-so-great artist.”

Stafford, professor and director of jazz studies at the Boyer College of Music and Dance, will receive a Faculty Award for Creative Achievement for his work inside and outside of the classroom.

Born in Miami and raised in Chicago and Silver Spring, Maryland, Stafford is a world-renowned trumpeter who has appeared on more than 50 recordings. He began his musical education as a child on the viola, but was suspended from music school for a year after a run-in with a stern music teacher.

During that time, Stafford came across an old trumpet in his grandmother’s closet and quickly developed a love for the instrument. He recalls having to be bribed into doing homework and daily chores with the threat of not being allowed to practice.

“Even today I love to practice,” he said. “Teaching allows me to practice with students. The more I teach them, the more I’m able to learn and make improvements in my own music.”

Since the mid-1990s, Stafford has balanced a successful performing and teaching schedule, sharing the stage with several noted jazz groups, including Benny Golson’s Sextet, McCoy Tyner’s Sextet, the Kenny Barron Sextet, the Frank Wess Quintet, the Jimmy Heath Big Band and the Jon Faddis Orchestra. He is currently a member of the Grammy-award winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra as well as drummer Matt Wilson’s group, Arts and Crafts, and drummer Alvin Queen’s group, Alvin Queen and the Organics.

With a career that includes composing television and movie scores, Stafford’s work has been featured on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and the soundtrack for the feature film A Bronx Tale.

He receives high praise from students and colleagues alike.

“Terell has a unique rapport with students,” said Robert T. Stoker, dean of the Boyer College of Music and Dance. "He has the ability to communicate musical ideas to their generation while keeping alive the traditions of all the jazz greats who preceded them. One of Terell's most humble characteristics is that he never forgets those who encouraged and supported him when he was the same age as many of our students."