Terell Stafford says video games can help develop jazz musicians.

Courtesy of Terell Stafford

The 39th annual AZJazz Week culminates Friday with noted trumpeter Terell Stafford at center stage in Crowder Hall.

He joins the University of Arizona’s own five-member Faculty Jazz Ensemble and the 18-student Studio Jazz Ensemble.

“I see myself as equally a player and an educator,” says Stafford, on campus for three days of workshops and rehearsals. “For jazz musicians in the 21st century, this is our role.”

Stafford’s significant résumé began as a student in the late 1980s with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. That résumé grew to include gigs with McCoy Tyner, Benny Golson, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and others, along with participation in more than 130 recordings.

Stafford is also director of Jazz Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia. Helping to mold students is a part of his art form.

So it isn’t surprising that Stafford can look at a little kid playing video games and see a future jazz musician, with fingers flying over a different set of keys.

“Video games are fast, and those kids can play for hours at a time. That requires discipline,” says Stafford. “It is a discipline that can be applied to jazz.”

Adapting a young brain accustomed to the speed of video games suits the speed of jazz, where a chorus of improvised notes is a string of split-second decisions.

Then Stafford takes the concept a step further, believing all that video-game training as a grade-schooler continues having an impact as those young minds keep maturing with the hyper-speed reflexes required for this digital age.

He figures it is no wonder they hear jazz differently from older minds listening to the same song at the same time.

“That’s what keeps the music evolving,” Stafford explained. “It’s because the human mind is evolving. There is always an appreciation for the history of jazz, but new minds also hear new possibilities.

“I don’t know if jazz is developing a new voice today, but it is definitely developing a new palette,” Stafford added. “Maybe not a new sound, but a new way of thinking about combinations of rhythms, or a different way to group chords together.

“For example,” he continued, “being familiar with (John) Coltrane’s music is a start, but then new players add their own emphasis to the music’s melodic qualities, or maybe find a different passion in Coltrane’s ideas.”

His type of collaboration with faculty and students is a first for UAPresents, according to Candace L. Feldman, the director of programming.

“The way it started, Candace just asked how she could help us,” recalled Angelo Versace, the UA’s director of Jazz Studies.

“The first person I thought of bringing in was Terell Stafford. He is so well-known as a great pedagogue.”

“I don’t know if it’s the first one ever held here,” Feldman said.

“We’ve had artists doing master classes on campus before, but for an artist to do a combination of workshops followed by a performance with the faculty and students is unique to Angelo and I.”

Chuck Graham has written about the Tucson arts scene for more than 30 years.