Guys With The Same Initials: Terell Stafford, Thomas Shields And Thomas Sully

The Philadelphia Museum Of Art is loaded, duh, with works by famous folks. Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Manet, Cassatt, O’Keefe, etc., etc. The other day at the museum I walked past creations by all of them with barely a second glance, not to mention a first glance. Instead, on a goofy mission I spent a bit of time looking at objects produced by the hands and minds of Thomas Shields and Thomas Sully, names that ring a bell with just about nobody. That’s all I wanted to see before settling down with my wife Sandy in the museum’s Great Hall for an evening jazz concert led by the very a-ok trumpeter Terell Stafford.

Here’s why I did what I did: “Does the museum have anything on display by people with the same initials as tonight’s bandleader?” I wondered at home a few hours before Sandy and I headed museumward. “If it does, that’s what I’ll look at before the show.” Had any PMA visitor ever had the same sort of game plan as this? Yeah, right. Why did I come up with this idea? Uh, our orb is awash with cockeyed people.

PMA has a searchable online database. I scoured it. There were 33 artists whose first names and surnames began, respectively, with T and S. Of them, only three had works on display in the galleries (in other words, not in storage), according to the database. But one of those works, by a guy named Thomas Stretch, was the inner mechanism of an old grandfather clock. Stretch hadn’t designed the parts of the clock that anyone cared about. Namely, its cabinet or face. I’d have to disassemble the clock to see the gears et al that Stretch had fashioned, and I had a feeling that the museum’s guards, let alone its CEO, wouldn’t approve. Ergo, I scratched Stretch’s name off my list and, at the museum, went to check out what Shields and Sully were all about.

img_1013img_1031A silver sugar bowl. From the 1770s. Made in Philadelphia. That’s the Shields piece I looked at and admired. It’s beautiful. Shields was a well-known Philadelphia silversmith in his time and obviously damn good. If he were alive today I’d buy one just like it from him. It would look a whole lot better sitting next to Sandy’s and my Mr. Coffee machine than the bowl we’re currently scooping out of.

img_1016-2And Sully? Long ago he was a successful Philadelphia portrait painter. A few of his oils were on display at PMA. Mostly I looked at the one he did in 1833 of Thomas Cadwalader, a lawyer, landholder and military general. Man, Thomas looks great in this picture. Can you believe it, though? He was in his early 50s when Sully put him on canvas yet looks to be . . . what? . . . 35 at most? His skin glows with dewy freshness. His sun-lightened locks are enviably tousled. Bummer: TC might appear to hold the key to eternal youthfulness, but he lasted only eight more years before saying goodbye to Planet Earth.

Okay, show time was approaching. Back I went to a cocktail table in the Great Hall where Sandy sat. We have been to many dozens of jazz concerts at this venue since discovering the museum’s Friday night music series in 2002, one year after it launched. But we don’t go anywhere near as often as we used to, because you have to arrive at least an hour early to nab a decent seat. Which is a pain that we got tired of enduring. The show’s first set began right on time (5:45 PM), a miracle in the music world, and ended exactly one hour later. Being kind of anal, I admired those examples of precision and efficiency. And I also admired the limited amount of between-song patter that Terell Stafford engaged in. Out of the 60 minutes that he and his mates were on stage, sounds came out of their instruments for about 55 of them.

img_1028But what I admired above all was the quality of the music that the Stafford quintet produced. They played with a whole lot of heart and soul. They were into it. You could tell by watching Terell arching his back, his knees pushing forward — all in the name of generating thrust — when he ripped hard and fleet notes from his horn during certain solos. And by watching pianist Bruce Barth’s noggin bopping side to side, front to back, when he reached the heady parts of his improvisations. And by watching Stafford and tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield smiling big smiles and nodding their heads in lockstep as they watched drummer Billy Williams unload a wham-bam solo near the end of the set’s first song (Hocus Pocus).

img_1567Hocus Pocus, composed by the late, fantastic and Philadelphia-born trumpet player, Lee Morgan, began with Stafford and Warfield pouring out the tune’s careening, irresistible melody with panache. After which Terell took the tune’s first solo, Barth pounding out heavy chords behind him. Cutting loose, TS spent mucho time in his instrument’s high register. Next to grab the solo spotlight was Warfield. He began studiously, exploring and probing, and when he found the door he was looking for the hot notes began to fly. A few minutes later Barth’s turn arrived. His left hand struck broad, loud chords while his right danced exuberantly. Throughout the tune the band was tight and relentless. Hard to believe that the upright bass player, Drew Gaunce, was a last minute fill-in for the gig. He, to my amateur ears, was rock solid all night.

Speaking of Lee Morgan, I realized after the fact that he composed four of the set’s five numbers. And that the remaining tune (Candy) was a song that he covered on his 1958 album of the same name. And I also was late to learn that the songs that TS and company played comprise the first five tracks on Brotherlee Love, the fine Morgan-honoring album that Stafford released last year. Of the four Stafford compadres appearing with TS at the museum, two of them (Barth and Warfield) played on that album. If you click right here you’ll hear Hocus Pocus as it appears on Brotherlee Love. And if you click here you’ll catch the Brotherlee Love version of Candy. On the album, Candy is performed by a trio, sax and drums sitting it out. At the museum the Candy personnel shrank even further. And the performance was lovely, a languid and captivating two-person discussion between Stafford and Barth.

I’d be remiss not to mention that Terell Stafford is known to jazz musicians and jazz fans in many places on the globe. Ditto for Barth and Warfield and Williams. And that TS, BB and TW also have long histories as jazz educators (all three teach at Philadelphia’s Temple University, for example). As for Gaunce, well, he’s in the wee stages of his career, so we’ll find out where the winds and his talents take him. After the first set ended, those winds carried me and Sandy out of the museum to a nearby tavern. There, we chowed down on good pub grub and drank good beer (me) and wine (her) before motoring home to the burbs.

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26 thoughts on “Guys With The Same Initials: Terell Stafford, Thomas Shields And Thomas Sully

  1. Joyce September 21, 2016 / 8:29 am

    Clever and interesting . …..made me want to be there ! Thanks again for the clicks !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Martin Staub September 22, 2016 / 12:46 am

    A very well written and interesting blog. Your comments about the music were spot on. We have been following TS’s career ever since he was in high school, and for good reason – I was his high school band director!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 22, 2016 / 7:49 am

      Martin, thanks very much for taking a look at my stories.
      You’re probably the first high school band director ever to post a comment on my website!

      Like

  3. aprilswopegreene September 22, 2016 / 3:33 pm

    Love the grouping by initials! Keen and chuckle-worthy observation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 22, 2016 / 5:05 pm

      You know, I wonder if I’ve done that in previous articles. Not sure, but probably I have.

      Like

  4. Elizabeth M. Soltan September 22, 2016 / 6:26 pm

    Another interesting slant on the multi-faceted PMA. Liked your take on Thomas Sully’s portrait. Perhaps a flattering picture ensured that Sully would get paid?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Aunt Beulah September 24, 2016 / 10:54 pm

    Neil, what training or experiences have you had that allow you to consume music in the knowledgeable, all-in way you do? And, next question, what training or experiences have you had that allow you to describe your reactions in ways that those of us not so informed can understand and enjoy?

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 25, 2016 / 7:48 am

      Hi Janet. I don’t think I have any specific answers to your questions. But if this story comes across the way you say, then I’m happy about that.

      Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger September 25, 2016 / 2:46 pm

      Hi Andrew. I predict that a year or so from now you will have become a jazz lover, and will be writing article after article about it for your blog!

      Like

  6. cincinnatibabyhead September 25, 2016 / 2:43 pm

    Will check these guys out. Always looking for new sounds and new music and musicians. Dig Lee Morgan’s stuff. Haven’t been keeping up on the new guys. My loss. Thanks for the heads up.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. jncsdad217 October 5, 2016 / 10:23 am

    Thomas Sully! Meet me at Laurel Hill Cemetery sometime and I will show you his gravesite and tell you what I know about him. One of the specialty tours I developed is all about Laurel Hill “permanent residents” who were somehow connected to U.S. presidents. Sully painted a bunch of them, including the Andrew Jackson portrait that (for now) graces the $20 bill. I became aware of him when the Inquirer did a “Memory Stream” story a few years back about Mr. Cadwalader. I googled both he and Sully to see if either of them were at LHC. Cadwalader is not, but Sully is. Other guides at the cemetery knew about him but that Inquirer story was my introduction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger October 5, 2016 / 12:33 pm

      I thank you for what are among the best comments that anyone ever has posted on my blog.
      I’ve lived in or near Philadelphia for about 40 years, but it wasn’t till a year or two ago that I made it to LHC (as a visitor, not as one of the deceased). It’s an amazing place.

      Like

      • jncsdad217 October 6, 2016 / 12:32 pm

        Thanks and I certainly do enjoy your blog! Regarding LHC, I’ve also lived here my whole life, and have been interested cemeteries for a long time, but did not manage to visit LHC until 2012. But I started training to be a tour guide right after my first visit and now I give a variety of tours each year. The night time Halloween tours are happening next Friday and Saturday, Oct. 14 and 15. If you have not been there for a night tour, you might want to consider it. They’re a lot of fun. I’ll be there both nights. I’m also giving a presentation on LHC at Phoenixville Library on Oct. 27 and I’m hopefully doing a daytime tour on November 19.

        Liked by 1 person

        • yeahanotherblogger October 7, 2016 / 8:56 am

          Thanks for the info. Not sure if I can make any of those dates. But one of these days I’d like to get back to LHC.

          Like

  8. Gilly October 21, 2016 / 10:18 am

    Wow – what a culture fest! Music and art – pure heaven. Definitely worth leaving the burbs for!

    Liked by 1 person

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