Boasting a sonic personality that cannot be ignored or mistaken, given its high-pitch tune, the trumpet has paved the way toward the development of various music genres, such as jazz, swing, and blues, and carries such significance in the evolution of music in general that we cannot imagine the world of sounds without it. Famous trumpet players have revealed the potential of this instrument from its very beginnings.
It took time to explore its many sonic possibilities, but thanks to some of the best blues and jazz trumpet players, the trumpet helped contour the evolution of these music genres and thus became a standard instrument in jazz and classical ensembles.
The trumpet has a rich history as it dates back to at least 1500 BCE, and it has been historically employed as a signaling device in hunting and battles. The trumpet began to be used as a musical instrument at the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century.
Charles Clagget is considered the first to have attempted to create a valve mechanism in the shape of a trumpet in 1788. A few years later, in 1818, Friedrich Bluhmel and Heinrich Stoelzel invented the first practical valve, which came to be known as a box tubular valve. Gradually, the trumpet evolved and took the shapes we see today.
The instrument was a favorite among important composers in the 17th and 18th centuries, and a bit later, in the 19th century, it became used as an orchestral instrument. With the development of jazz, blues, and swing, the trumpet took a new path, gaining even greater popularity and appreciation.
The trumpet’s beauty and sonic capacities have been revealed thanks to the mastery and creativity of various artists, and to show our gratitude, we have compiled below a list of top trumpet players.
All lists trying to gather the best trumpet players of all time include and, more often than not, begin with Louis Armstrong, who has come to be regarded as a key figure in the development of jazz.
The popular jazz trumpeter and singer is considered to be the first major jazz soloist, whose trumpet approach, operatic playing style, and sophisticated rhythms have paved the way toward the evolution of jazz. Before him, this music genre focused on collective performance, but Armstrong changed that and shifted it toward solo performances.
His recordings with the Hot Five and Hot Sevens have become a key reference in the history of jazz. However, Armstrong’s talent was not limited only to his trumpet performances as he was also a skilled scat singer and a composer. His works as a composer include more than fifty songs, and some of them are now considered jazz standards. ‘Potato Head Blues’, ‘Swing That Music’, and ‘Gully Low Blues’ are just some of his compositions.
Armstrong received many accolades and honors, and throughout his career, he performed with some of the most important vocalists and instrumentalists, such as Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby, Bessie Smith, and Fletcher Henderson, to name a few.
The so-called smooth jazz wouldn’t have developed the way it did without Miles Davis’ contribution. He is considered one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time, thanks to his playing style and technique. Davis played in various jazz styles, and his discography reveals his versatility as he played from classic bebop with Charlie Parker to modal jazz and hard bop.
He is known for playing mostly in the middle register and for his activity as a bandleader and composer. Davis’ career spanned over five decades, and his contribution to the development of jazz, talent, and trumpet mastery have led to an impressive list of achievements and awards.
He won eight Grammy Awards and released a noteworthy number of albums. ‘King of Blue’ remains one of the most popular and appreciated jazz albums of all time. Davis’ activity also included performances as an actor in a few movies, such as Miami Vice and Crime Story.
Although he died at a young age, Clifford Brown managed to achieve in his short career what other trumpet players achieved over decades of work. He left four years of recordings that shaped the way hard bop evolved and influenced many artists, such as Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, and Booker Little.
He gained success thanks to his mastery of this instrument, technique, and warm and round sounds. He formed his own group, Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet, which became one of the most important hard bop groups.
He was also highly appreciated for his compositions, some of which became jazz standards, such as ‘Joy Spring’, ‘Sandu’, and ‘Daahoud’. Brown performed with important musicians, including Art Blaker, J. J. Johnson, and Tadd Dameron.
Associated with the so-called ‘cool jazz’ or West Coast jazz, Chet Baker was not only one of the best jazz trumpet players but also a singer. He performed with important groups, such as the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, and his innovations in the above-mentioned jazz subgenre led to him being nicknamed the ‘Prince of the Cool’.
Some of his most notable compositions include ‘Early Morning Mood’, ‘Il mio domani’, ‘The Route’, ‘We Know It’s Love’, and ‘Chetty’s Lullaby’, to name a few.
Not only a famous trumpet player but also a showman, comedian, composer, and singer, Dizzy Gillespie shaped how bebop evolved and contributed significantly to the Afro-Cuban movement. Gillespie embraced a new trumpet playing style by using the instrument’s high register, handling upbeat tempos, and creating rhythmically complex music pieces.
His jazz improvisations and compositions were new and led to the emergence of modern jazz, and his artistry, wit, and musicianship helped develop and promote bebop. His performances, talent, and technique influenced many important musicians, including Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, and Fats Navarro, to name a few.
He was a charismatic musician, often recognized for his pouched cheeks, horn-rimmed spectacles, and hat, and for playing with a bent trumpet. Some of his most successful works are ‘Diz & Getz, Bird & Diz’ and ‘Jazz at Massey Hall’.
Regarded as one of the most famous trumpet players, Freddie Hubbard took the development of jazz and bebop one step further through his performances and improvisation. The way he played and his tone led to new perspectives for modern jazz and many collaborations with influential musicians of that time.
He played with the Jazz Messengers band, Quincy Jones, J. J. Johnson, and Sonny Rollins. His discography is impressive as it includes a significant number of albums and recordings both as a leader/co-leader and a sideman. ‘Open Sesame’, his debut album, remains one of his iconic albums.
Even though Navarro died when he was only 26, his contribution to the development of jazz was significant, and his dynamic range and improvisation technique influenced many great jazz trumpet players, including Clifford Brown. He studied the piano first when he was only 6, and a few years later, he discovered and began exploring the trumpet.
The black jazz trumpet player performed and toured in bands, and he played with the Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Billy Eckstine, and Andy Kirk bands, as well as with other great musicians of that time, such as Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell, and Tadd Dameron, to name a few.
Gaining success and popularity thanks to his trumpet and flugelhorn mastery, Farmer held an important place in the development of jazz, especially in experimenting with new forms of this music genre. His activity is often associated with the Jazztet, a jazz sextet he founded with Benny Golson.
His discography includes more than fifty albums as a leader, a dozen with the Jazztet, and dozens as a sideman, as well as many singles. Farmer’s playing was lyrical and sensitive, combined with tonal warmth.
Considered one of the greatest jazz and blues trumpet players, Donald Byrd had a versatile approach as he revolutionized the world of bebop and explored soul and funk while remaining a jazz player.
His activity includes performances both as a bandleader and as a sideman and with influential musicians of his time, including John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Jackie McLean, and Sonny Rollins.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Byrd focused more on rhythm and blues, as well as on jazz fusion. The album he released with the Mizell Brothers, ‘Black Bird’, was Blue Note Records’ best-selling album for years. Some other noteworthy albums he released are ‘A New Perspective’ and ‘Fuego’.
When it comes to today’s best jazz trumpeters, Wynton Marsalis is one of the most appropriate candidates for this title, given his mastery of this instrument. Marsalis is a complex artist as he is not only a skilled trumpeter but also a composer and teacher.
His talent and skills have led to an impressive number of awards, including several Grammy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Blood on the Fields, as well as collaborations with important artists such as Art Blakey. Thanks to his technique, Marsalis is considered to be one of the finest trumpeters not only of our time but of all time.
One would expect big band trumpet players to have a rich experience behind and years of practice, but Lee Morgan proved such ideas wrong as he was only a teenager when he played with Dizzy Gillespie’s well-known band. Considered a child prodigy, Morgan performed with some of the most important musicians of that time, such as John Coltrane and Art Blakey.
However, his solo career also enjoyed great success, and some even considered him worthy of the best trumpet soloist title of that time. His discography includes many recordings with him both as a leader and as a sideman, and his performances and skills place him among the most important hard bop artists of the 1960s.
This list of famous jazz trumpeters would be incomplete without Woody Shaw, whose innovative approaches shaped the way jazz evolved. His performances stood out thanks to his technique, perfect pitch, and use of wide intervals.
His career included performances and recordings both as a leader and a sideman. He worked with important artists of his time, such as Bud Powell, Eric Dolphy, Kenny Clarke, Horace Silver, and Dexter Gordon. Some of his most appreciated albums are ‘Rosewood’ and ‘Blackstone Legacy’.
The swing era of the 1930s wouldn’t have been the same without Roy Eldridge’s performances. Nicknamed ‘Little Jazz’ because of his stature, the musician stood out thanks to his playing style and innovative approaches.
Eldridge used harmony and tritone substitutions in a sophisticated way, and he is regarded as the bridge between Louis Armstrong’s dominant style and the bebop generation. He had one of the greatest influences on Dizzy Gillespie’s evolution as an artist and contributed to the way jazz and bebop evolved.
The way Adderley played the trumpet and how he approached this instrument earned him a top place among the best trumpeters in history. He was not only a virtuoso of this instrument but also of the cornet, and his discography includes a considerable number of albums as a leader and many collaborations as a sideman.
His album ‘Work Song’ became a jazz standard and gained great success on the pop charts. The music he played combined various influences, and he contributed to the development and establishment of 1960s soul-jazz.
The 1950s hard bop was considerably influenced and shaped by Kenny Dorham’s performances, a leading player who left behind a generous legacy of solo recordings and works as a sideman. He was not only a skilled trumpeter but also a singer and composer.
Even though he did not receive the recognition he deserved during his lifetime, his talent and contribution to the development of jazz were widely acknowledged posthumously. One of his greatest achievements is his composition ‘Blue Bossa’, which became a jazz standard.