The Greatest Trumpet Players – Our Top 5
The trumpet and the saxophone arguably make up two of the most integral instruments in jazz when it comes to soloing and the general direction which the music genre developed in over the years. As such, we thought we’d give you our list of the Top 5 Greatest Trumpet Players!
Although some of the heavyweights of jazz such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young to name a few, were all sax players, we at VW think that it was the trumpet players who really moved the music into new directions and gave it the leaps it needed. By the way, do check out our Top 10 Greatest Saxophone Players as well!
Taking a quick stroll down memory lane, it was really Louis Armstrong (especially when performing in the timeless duet with Ella Fitzgerald) who really popularized the Dixiland jazz at the time and made it a more popular and commercial form of music.
Fast forward to the birth of bebop, most recognizably characterized by the lightning performances and energy of Charlie Parker. And yet it can be argued that the other two champions of bebop – Dizzie Gillespie and Miles Davis – are the ones who then managed to take that music and evolve it into something completely new (bearing in mind that unfortunately, Parker wasn’t around to see or influence it).
Skipping all the way to today’s time, the trumpet is just as important to jazz as it was in every preceding decade and it’s artistry is carried by fantastic names like Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval, Till Bronner to name a few.
But here is a list of VW’s Greatest Trumpet Players with little snippets showing precisely why they made our list. Can we just put this disclaimer out here first – it’s nearly impossible to pick a “Top 5”, but if we absolutely had to, here’s what it would look like.
Greatest Trumpet Players
5. Freddie Hubbard
Born in Indianapolis, Hubbard has made a name for himself as one of the greatest trumpet players in jazz, having played with names like Sonny Rollins, Wes Mongomery, John Coltrane, and Quincy Jones to name a few.
His fame came as a result of his time with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, having played in that band from 1961-64 together with Wayne Shorter. He later recorded Ascension with John Coltrane in 1964 and went on to work on a number of projects with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Max Roach.
A true technical maestro, and not too dissimilar in style and sound from Clifford Brown, Hubbard is truly one which belongs in the upper echelons of jazz.
4. Clifford Brown
The premature death of Clifford Brown as a result of a car accident at age 25 remains as one of the greatest tragedies of jazz. Brown’s warm, fat tone, his hard-bop style and incredible improvisation technique quickly allowed him to climb to the top of the jazz world at such a young age.
Even in such a short-lived career, he was compared to the likes of Dizz and Miles, making a name for himself as one of the greatest trumpet players to ever blow the horn. Just a few hours before his death, Brownie appeared at a jam session in Philadelphia that was miraculously recorded, and played some of the finest music of his short life.
Unfortunately there doesn’t exist much live footage of Brown, so we will have to make due with studio recordings for the purposes of this list.
3. Chet Baker
The poster boy of West Coast Cool. The James Dean of jazz. Unlike most of the beboppers of the 50s, who played ferociously with ridiculous dexterity, Chet’s signature sound was characterized by a minimalist eloquence.
His use of space and time is reminiscent of Miles, but Chet had the voice which could transform any song into deeply melancholic masterpiece.
Unfortunately, greatness comes at a cost and for Chet that was a long addiction to heroin which ultimately resulted in a number of unpleasant run-ins and one of the worst cases of premature ageing we’ve ever seen since Keith Richards.
His documentary – Almost Blue – remains one of the most touching and somehow melancholic and heartbreaking documentaries we’ve seen, but the music in it is wonderful and we absolutely recommend for everyone to see it!
2. Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in bebop next to Charlie Parker.
Prior to teaming up with Parker and Miles Davis later on, Dizzy played in a number of outfits for the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Cab Calloway, and Duke Ellington, among others.
Always a bright and energetic figure with a terrific sense of humour he was a talented band leader and a technical virtuoso on the horn who possessed a set of balloons for cheeks which gave him one of the most memorable faces in all of jazz.
We’ve featured Dizzy Gillespie’s incredible Concert of the Century previously as part of our Jazz subscription Records of the Month – January 2021!
1. Miles Davis
Miles once said “Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent.”. Miles was 120% attitude. Infamous for never acknowledging his audience, sometimes playing with his back to them and rarely uttering a word, he is one of the all-time greatest symbols of cool and pioneers of music.
It’s no surprise that Miles has worked with the all-time who’s who of jazz, starting with the early names of bebop including Charlie Parker, Dizz, Coltane and Cannonball and moving all the way through to modern electric jazz with Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul and even Marcus Miller.
Miles was the engine which drove jazz into each new direction that it took, and he managed to bring it to the absolute peak every time. A perfectionist and a ruthless band leader, Miles is without a doubt the reason jazz is what it is and his influence can be heard in almost any tune heard today.
There really can be no other at the top of the list of the greatest trumpet players of all time!