Like any trumpeter in his mid-30s plying the jazz mainstream, Terell Stafford invites comparison with the usual suspects--high-powered players like Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, and Wallace Roney, all of whom have arrived in the wake of Wynton Marsalis. But unlike those three, Stafford came to jazz late; he studied classical music full-time from his middle school years in Elk Grove Village until his graduation from Rutgers. And during his 20s--unlike most young horn men, anxious to leap into the solo spotlight--Stafford concentrated on working in the trumpet sections of various jazz orchestras. (He's said he enjoys big-band section playing because it reminds him of symphony work.) Luckily, not long after he committed to jazz he met Jon Faddis, as good a teacher as any young musician is likely to find. Though Stafford's style differs markedly from Faddis's in some details, you can hear the older man's influence in the intensity of Stafford's attack, as well as in his ability to create serious fun with the horn: he doesn't clown or in any other way diminish the nobility of the enterprise, but it's clear he knows that jazz should make people glad they got the chance to hear it. His solos still sometimes lose their narrative flow, and he occasionally allows his classically honed technique to push him into difficult passages that he can't swing his way out of--but his long apprenticeship has also matured and tempered his playing. Last year's Fields of Gold (Nagel-Heyer), Stafford's third disc, places his horn in several complementary settings, from torchy balladry to soul jazz to the mariachi-like harmonies of the traditional son tune "If I Perish"; each one brings out a different side of his round, brassy, toasted-almond tone. When he played at the Jazz Showcase in November, as an unannounced addition to the Clayton Brothers band, his solo turns overflowed with light and heat, sounding nearly as brash as Freddie Hubbard in his prime. The strong quintet Stafford leads here features two-thirds of the Fields of Gold rhythm section and the solid and engaging saxist Steve Wilson, a regular member of Chick Corea's band Origin. Tuesday, May 8, 8 PM, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights; 847-577-2121. Wednesday, May 9, 8 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. Thursday, May 10, 7:30 PM, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; 773-947-0600, ext. 250.