The roaring 20s doesn’t only refer to all the money floating around. During this time, almost as far south as you can get, there was a new sound forming. The music communities of New Orleans had something brewing better than Jambalaya. Blues and ragtime were evolving into jazz.
In the century following, many have taken up their trumpets in triumph for this musical art. To celebrate, we’ve put together a list of the best trumpet players who have ever happened to jazz and beyond.
1. Miles Davis
When it comes to jazz, Miles Davis is probably the most influential figure there is. The famed trumpeter did a little bit of everything, composing, band leading, and of course, trumpeting. He is easily one of the best to pick up the instrument of all time. Miles was coming up as a trumpeter just as jazz was being fed into living rooms. He is an award-winning and highly-acclaimed player who forever shaped the industry.
2. Louis Armstrong
Whether you refer to him as Satchmo, Pops, or by his name, Louis Armstrong helped create jazz since he was part of its birth in his hometown of New Orleans. His trumpet playing and vocalizing set him apart from others trying to do what he was doing. When it comes down to it, this trumpeter made jazz a household name. In a career that spanned five decades, Louis left his imprint on the instrumental art form for generations to come.
3. Dizzy Gillespie
Not only was Dizzy Gillespie a phenomenal trumpeter, but he was also a bandleader, composer, singer, and even teacher. Those around him knew from a young age that he had a natural talent for the trumpet as well as for singing. Dizzy also had the ability to make up something on the spot that sounded like a piece he toiled over for a long time to make it perfect.
4. Wynton Marsalis
What better place is there to show off talent than at the Lincoln Center? That’s where Director of Jazz Wynton Marsalis displays his skills as a trumpeter, composer, and instructor. His gift to the world is not only his trumpet playing but also how he opens young students’ eyes to the world of instrumental music. Wynton is the recipient of nine Grammys. He also won a Pulitzer Prize for Music, the first person to have ever done so with jazz.
5. Clifford Brown
His life may have been cut too short, but Clifford Brown left us with a treasure trove of beautiful jazz where his trumpet playing was the highlight. Four years’ worth of music to love, to be exact. While he was building his reputation in the music industry, Clifford also spent a large part of his time also songwriting. Music was basically on his mind 24/7. A few of his creations are now considered jazz standards.
6. Chet Baker
Within every music genre, there are official and unofficial subgenres. Chet Baker poured his heart, soul, and trumpet into the advancement of his favorite genre, jazz. He ventured out to the west coast to spend some time listening to the scene. What he came up with was referred to as cool jazz. Naturally, his fans started calling him the Prince of Cool. Not only could he play, but he sure could sing, too.
7. Lee Morgan
Jazz had evolved a lot from its beginnings by the time the 60s rolled around. Lee Morgan saw the changes and wanted to get in on that. Of course, this is after he had already been working for years with other musicians such as John Coltrane and Art Blakey. Lee is now classified as one of the most influential hard bop musicians of his era, in addition to being a master trumpeter.
8. Maynard Ferguson
Jazz may have originated in the Southern United States, but it wasn’t contained there. Maynard Ferguson fell in love with the sound all the way up in Canada. He also developed a passion for the trumpet, which he was able to showcase as part of Stan Kenton’s orchestra during the 50s. After years of playing for someone else, Maynard formed his own band in 1957. He went on to become known for the unusually high-pitched notes he could play.
9. Clark Terry
Sharing a birth with jazz might have been what bonded him with the genre for life. Clark Terry was a popular swing and bebop trumpet player, but that’s not where his story ends. Not only did he compose his own pieces and instruct others on the beauty of a trumpet, but he also did something no one else had. Clark introduced jazz to the flugelhorn. That one aspect of his signature sound had him working with some big names in the industry. It also led to a lucrative deal with The Tonight Show, where he played for a decade starting in the 60s.
10. Fats Navarro
Another brilliant player gone too soon, Fats Navarro, was here long enough to leave his mark on jazz as one of the best trumpeters. During the 40s, America was going through a lot between joining in and being there for the end of WWII. This was a dark time for the world, but it ended up being a time to shine for Fats. This is when he helped usher in the time of bebop jazz.
11. Roy Hargrove
Roy Hargrove is one of the best trumpet players from a more modern era. He was young when he started playing in the early 80s. He mastered the trumpet, then took that skill to the flugelhorn and did the same thing. That talent is how he ended up winning two Grammys for differing jazz styles many years into his career.
12. Nicholas Payton
Growing up in the birthplace of jazz can only help perpetuate a love for the sound. That’s what happened to a native New Orleanian, Nicholas Payton. Considered a top-tier trumpeter of new jazz, he is a force to be reckoned with in the industry. He’s a Grammy winner who writes and uses music to make a statement about what’s going on in the world today.
13. Terence Blanchard
Terrance Blanchard started his professional career as a musician in the early 80s with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. He went on to play for The Jazz Messengers. But it was in the film industry where he has really gotten to show off his trumpet and composing skills. Over the course of his career, Terence has put together scores of over 50 movies.
14. Freddie Hubbard
When it comes to bop, Freddie Hubbard had them all. He was a highly skilled trumpeter who could bebop, hard bop, and post-bop with his own twist. Starting in the early 60s, Freddie really put extra emphasis on mixing modern jazz with a variety of bops. That leaning toward bops put him in a class of his own. Many jazz musicians who came after him were inspired by Freddie’s uniqueness.
15. Harry James
Not everyone gets to explore their passion for the duration of their existence. Fortunately for jazz lovers everywhere, Harry James did just that. While America was embroiled in WWII, this trumpeter used his leadership skills to give the masses something to be happy about. Harry was a bandleader throughout the duration of the war. Shortly after the war ended, he paused the musical side of his life. The break was temporary, and a year later, he was back at it until he died 36 years later.
16. Bix Beiderbecke
Bix Beiderbecke was born just after the turn of the century. That means he was coming of age just as jazz was being born. Lucky for him, he had invested his time and energy into becoming a rather skilled cornet player. Just to keep his options diversified, he also took an interest in the piano and trumpet. It didn’t take long before he started writing his own pieces. That expertise landed him many solos throughout the 20s.
17. Art Farmer
It’s not every day that a musician is so good at playing an instrument that one is made especially for them. Art Farmer was a highly regarded trumpet player who also found himself interested in the flugelhorn. After spending so much time becoming an expert on two instruments, he found a way to combine them both for the ultimate horned instrument, introducing the flumpet.
18. Woody Shaw
Taking the time to become a great player of any instrument is encompassing enough. Try being at that same level for three instruments. Woody Shaw developed his talent for covering multiple bases when he learned to play the trumpet, flugelhorn, and cornet. That’s not all, though! He was also a composer, arranger, and instructor. Let’s not forget that he also led a big band. Because of his broad range, Woody is frequently referred to as one of the most important contributors to jazz.
19. Doc Severinsen
Doc Severinsen honed his trumpeting for years before taking his skills to the small screen. It was on the television network NBC that he joined the network’s orchestra. That means he was part of TV history with countless specials and episodes playing his music. Doc led the ensemble on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was the host.
20. Don Cherry
Ever heard of free jazz? If so, you have Don Cherry to thank. He was one of the first users of this type of music and helped develop it into an art form. It might have been inspired by the times he was living in. The 60s were a time to have a free spirit, so free jazz seems reasonable enough to follow suit. Don kept his inner circle full of sounds with friends like John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.
21. Arturo Sandoval
In his youth, Arturo Sandoval found a love for music. His favorite instrument was the trumpet, and he began to be classically trained. Eventually, jazz escaped the southern border and flooded into Arturo’s homeland of Cuba. It was love at first listen. Suddenly, he was a jazz trumpeter. Eventually, he helped develop a new form of jazz, contemporary Latin jazz. This style influenced trumpeters such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
22. Donald Byrd
Just because you’re seeing what all is out there doesn’t mean you’re betraying your day job. Donald Byrd can testify to that. You see, he was a very successful R&B and jazz trumpeter starting in the 50s. As time marched on, so did the sound of jazz, and subcategories were created. Donald found it to be a moral imperative to see what all the types of music had to offer. He dabbled a bit in funk and soul music during his time.
23. Roy Eldridge
You don’t need to be big, let the music be big for you. At least that’s how it happened to Roy Eldridge. He may not have had the height, but he had a trumpet that could speak volumes. Between those two topics, he earned the nickname Little Jazz. Roy couldn’t just play what was there, he dove deep into understanding things like harmony and tritone substitutions.
24. Dave Douglas
American jazz speaks to everyone differently. The way it communicated to Dave Douglas is through his writing pen. After spending years perfecting his sound on the trumpet and teaching others to do the same, it was time to step outside the box. So, Dave took the step of figuring out composing. Since then, he has used this knowledge to become a prolific composer. To date, there are more than 500 compositions attributed to this trumpeter.
25. Kenny Dorham
It’s strange how someone can be so talented and in demand but somehow miss the acknowledgment during their lifetime. That’s Kenny Dorham’s story. Born in the 20s, he was brought up listening to jazz as it was forming. By the time he started playing, bop was where it was at. His trumpet playing was so lyrical that fans went out of their way to hear him play. Despite his additional talents in composing and singing, he is the unsung hero of jazz.
26. Thad Jones
Thad Jones came to prominence with his jazz trumpet playing at a time when trumpeters didn’t stand out. Most were part of a big band and used their talents as part of a group. Thad wasn’t about that life. While he used that format to build on his skill over the years, it was when playing solo that he outshined everyone. In addition to composing and leading the band, Thad is referred to as one of the greatest jazz soloists.
27. Blue Mitchell
Kids often go through phases where they want to do all kinds of jobs when they grow up. Blue Mitchell was not one of those kids. He always had his sights set on the trumpet. Before he was even out of high school, he started playing in a band during the mid-50s. It was clear that he was motivated by passion, and he quickly became a favorite in his native Miami scene. In addition to jazz, Blue tried out R&B, funk, soul, and even rock.
28. Nat Adderley
Nat Adderley had music in his blood. Coming from a musical family always helps create a support system that would uplift his career. That might be another reason why he was noticed with enormous talent as a young person. Nat became an expert trumpet and cornet player. He is credited with helping jazz evolve into a style that listeners still enjoy today.
29. Buddy Bolden
The earliest-born person on our list came into the world in 1877. He was so far ahead of jazz that he helped develop the music style that came before it, ragtime. Like jazz, this style came from New Orleans, prompted by the African American community. Buddy defined his style around making cornets and trumpets the hinge on which the sound rested. He lived long enough to see jazz come to life.
30. Cat Anderson
Playing the trumpet is one thing, but the high notes that Cat Anderson hit were something else. This is part of what kept him in Duke Ellington’s orchestra for the many years he was associated with it. No one could play the trumpet quite like him. When it comes to being a standout, having skills like Cat was guaranteed. He did release a few albums in his own name, and those are some of the most treasured records in jazz.
31. Herb Alpert
The widely known and very popular Tijuana Brass rose to prominence in the jazz circuit throughout the 60s. Most who were in the know about the band knew the success was because of Herb Alpert. He was so successful in churning out interest and hits that he ended up creating an entire record label to benefit from his knowledge.
32. Harry Edison
During the golden age of Hollywood, music was everything. It was a very different time in the movie industry and the audiences were eating up the musical numbers. Harry Edison was a massive part of that movement in Hollywood. He was a studio musician specializing in jazz trumpet. One of his most well-known working partnerships was with Frank Sinatra, where you can hear his trumpet in the background.
33. Chris Botti
Jazz has been going strong for a century, but there’s a new set of trumpeters making a name for themselves since the turn of the new century. Chris Botti is one of the most sought-after trumpet players today. He is a Grammy winner and composer who often combines classical jazz with a pop sound. He tours often to provide a live jazz concert experience all over the world.
34. Tom Harrell
Tom Harrell is a modern-day jazz renaissance man. He plays the trumpet and flugelhorn in addition to composing and arranging music. The Jazz Journalists Association voted him Trumpeter of the Year in 2018. Tom is so natural with the trumpet that it’s almost like he spent a lifetime with it before dying and being reborn to do it all over again.
35. Don Ellis
During the 60s and 70s, Don Ellis used his gift to get wild and crazy with trumpet playing. He wanted to do things no one had done before to create something special. Don spent a lot of time manipulating time signatures. Being a composer gave him more opportunities to try things. He was also a skilled bandleader and drummer.
36. Cootie Williams
It was the 30s and big band music was everywhere. That was at least something of a distraction from the actual depression happening outside the walls of the music hall. Cootie Williams threw himself into making spectacular performances. In addition to jazz, he specialized in jump blues and R&B.
37. Booker Little
It’s hard to pack in enough work to be remembered professionally before the age of 23, but that’s what Booker Little did. He started out very young, getting invested in music and learning instruments. After mastering the trumpet, Booker went on to become a composer and spread himself across a multitude of recordings. He had time to perform with big names before passing away from health issues.
38. Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker is another artist with music in the family. He plays the trumpet and flugelhorn at an expert level. Throughout his career, he has spent the majority of his time on jazz but also plays rock and R&B. Being a studio musician has given him the opportunity to work with some big names and be experimental.
39. Wallace Roney
Taking lessons from jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry certainly gave Wallace Roney an advantage. Then, studying closely with Miles Davis was the chef’s kiss to his career. He got to play with Miles until he passed away in 1991. Following those inspiring years, Wallace went on to win a Grammy among his few nominations.
40. King Oliver
Born in 1881, King Oliver was ahead of his time. He was playing music before jazz came about. That meant he was able to put his master talents to work as this new genre was evolving from ragtime. King actually started the use of mutes in jazz. He lived long enough to see jazz and swing music take over the country.
41. Alison Balsom
One of the most notable trumpet players of the 21st century, Alison Balsom stands out for a number of reasons. Aside from her superb trumpet skills, this English artist is an award-winning soloist, arranger, instructor, and producer. She takes her unique, natural style and travels the world sharing her gift.
42. Ingrid Jensen
Ingrid Jenson proves that, once again, jazz knows no borders. Hailing from Canada, she left to up her game, studying music at Berklee. Her expertise on the trumpet opened up doors for her in Europe, where she worked with students to hone their own talents.
43. Hugh Masekela
The Father of South African Jazz was a hands-on masterful musician. Not only did he have immeasurable skill on the trumpet, but Hugh Masekela also took on the flugelhorn, cornet, and singing. He also used his talents for composing to get political. His anti-apartheid songs are still being listened to today.
44. James Morrison
James Morrison is a great representative of the sound of jazz in Australia. In a break from other trumpeters, he also plays the trombone, tuba, flugelhorn, euphonium, clarinet, piano, guitar, and saxophone. Basically, just call him the jack of all instruments. He could basically create an entire album as a one-man variety show.
45. Al Hirt
Al Hirt wrote the theme music for The Green Hornet and became an overnight sensation. He sold millions of recordings at a time when that wasn’t really a thing. Al started his trumpet career in the 40s and earned the name Round Mound of Sound. His contribution to entertainment and jazz is still talked about.
46. Jon Faddis
Jon Faddis is passionate about both playing and teaching the trumpet. The instrument was there for him in both the dark and light points of his life. So, he has found it his mission to show others how to channel through their instruments.
47. Hot Lips Page
Hot Lips Page was given this name because of the larger-than-life style of playing the trumpet. Throughout his career, he played for a multitude of orchestras. Big names in the genre such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey also made use of his talents.
48. Ambrose Akinmusire
Ambrose Akinmusire was building a reputation when a famed saxophonist heard his avant-garde style. Steve Coleman liked what he heard so much that he invited Ambrose to tour around Europe with him for months of live performances. Since then, he’s won awards and participated in jazz albums.
49. Bubber Miley
The whine or crying sound of a trumpet was inspired by Bubber Miley. Throughout the years of him showcasing his insane talent, he developed that skill that made listeners everywhere stop what they were doing. As a musician, he made the instrument do whatever he wanted and excelled using the plunger mute.
50. Muggsy Spanier
Another hot spot of jazz was in Chicago, especially during the time of prohibition. That’s when Muggsy Spanier was playing. His work with the Bucktown Five is where the Chicago style of jazz came from. The group integrated swing and Dixieland jazz to create their own brand.
51. Doc Cheatham
Doc Cheatham left such a legendary career behind that even his grandson became a professional musician. Starting in the 20s, he was a band leader, singer, and extraordinary jazz trumpeter. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Doc didn’t grow up around any music similar to what he played as an adult. He’s part African and part Native American, so his upbringing was unique. A mute given to him by King Oliver was used on his trumpet for the rest of his life.
52. Arve Henriksen
This talented trumpeter comes from Norway. Arve Henriksen’s sound is often compared to that of a Japanese flute, as opposed to what a typical trumpet sounds like. He gets quite chill when using the instrument, and the music created feels like it could lull you into a deep meditation.
53. Erik Truffaz
Erik Truffaz is a Swiss-French combo that became obsessed with Miles Davis at a young age. That jazz-funk influence was used to make something unheard of. Erik combined that type of jazz with electronic beats. This created a type of jazz that was influenced by hip hop and other African drum beats.
54. Marcus Belgrave
For the better part of three decades, Marcus Belgrave kept Detroit alive with sound. After studying with the great Clifford Brown, he started building a name for himself in the jazz scene throughout the 50s. Another famous name he was attached to is Ray Charles, with whom he played for years. That led him to be a prominent session player for Motown. Marcus’ style also included R&B and pop.
55. Dizzy Reece
While still in the middle of high school, Dizzy Reece became a paid trumpeter. He was clearly gifted and was offered the opportunity to take his talent to Europe. One of the biggest names of all time, Miles Davis, was an admirer of Dizzy. Using his Jamaican background as part of his sound, Dizzy worked with all the big names in the business starting as early as the 50s.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.