(function(h,o,t,j,a,r){ h.hj=h.hj||function(){(h.hj.q=h.hj.q||[]).push(arguments)}; h._hjSettings={hjid:104204,hjsv:5}; a=o.getElementsByTagName('head')[0]; r=o.createElement('script');r.async=1; r.src=t+h._hjSettings.hjid+j+h._hjSettings.hjsv; a.appendChild(r); })(window,document,'//static.hotjar.com/c/hotjar-','.js?sv=');
Join us

Features

The 50 Best Jazz Trumpeters Of All Time

The best jazz trumpeters in history have been at the centre of almost every major revolution in jazz. uDiscover Music brings you the Top 50.

Published on

Louis Armstrong William Gottlieb Library Of Congress 02 1000
Photo: William P Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library Of Congress

While it’s clear that both the trumpet and saxophone have been integral to jazz music’s development, the former instrument has arguably been the more important of the two. That’s because in jazz, all roads lead back to one man – Louis Armstrong. Not only one of the best jazz trumpeters of all time, Armstrong was one of the greatest musical improvisers ever and his innovations helped jazz to evolve into what it is today. As Miles Davis once said: “You can’t play nothing on modern trumpet that doesn’t come from him.”

Armstrong wasn’t the first notable jazz trumpeter in history – he was superseded by Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson and cornet player King Oliver – but he was more significant, combining virtuosity with popular appeal and, with his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings in the late 20s, lit the touchpaper to what became known as the Jazz Age.

In Armstrong’s wake came trumpeters such as Doc Cheatham, Muggsy Spanier and Bix Beiderbecke – all contenders for the best jazz trumpeter crown. But Dixieland jazz was superseded by big band swing in the 30s which gave rise to a new breed of horn man, epitomised by Hot Lips Page, Cootie Williams, and Harry “Sweets” Edison, who played with the day’s pre-eminent bandleaders, among them Count Basie, Artie Shaw and Duke Ellington.

As swing gave way to bebop in the mid-40s, one of the new music’s architects, puff-cheeked wind machine Dizzy Gillespie, gave jazz trumpet a complete makeover. The bop era produced a welter of other fine trumpeters, but one in particular stood out from the crowd: Miles Davis. Though not as technically accomplished as Gillespie, Miles had a lyrical tone and knew how to use space, light and shade. Though he would go on to influence the development of jazz music into the 70s, Davis would have earned his place among the world’s best jazz trumpeters for his work in the 50s alone, and had a profound influence on jazz musicians everywhere. Clifford Brown, too, cast a deep spell during the early 50s and helped to shape the trajectory of jazz trumpet playing.

A steady stream of trumpet players emerged in the 60s, including innovators such as free jazz maven Don Cherry and micro-tone experimentalist Don Ellis. In the 70s, when jazz-fusion and jazz-funk came to the fore, Miles Davis led the way once more, closely followed by Woody Shaw and Eddie Henderson.

No small number of the world’s best jazz trumpeters have emerged in the last 30 years, the most significant of which has been Wynton Marsalis. More recently, Roy Hargrove, Christian Scott and Ambrose Akinmusire have demonstrated that there’s no shortage of talented horn men waiting to break through into the spotlight. They are all part of a long lineage that stretches right back to the legacy of Louis Armstrong.

Partial to a horn of plenty? Look no further than our rundown of The 50 Best Jazz Trumpeters Of All Time…

50: Marcus Belgrave (1936-2015)

Though he was born in Pennsylvania, Belgrave was a key player on the Detroit jazz scene in the 50s, 60s and 70s. He studied with Clifford Brown in the 50s but ended up playing R&B with Ray Charles for several years and then, in the 60s, performed on Motown sessions. A versatile trumpeter who could play jazz, R&B and pop, Belgrave was also a noted and highly respected teacher.

49: Erik Truffaz (born 1960)

Space and a minimalist less-is-more aesthetic are the chief characteristics of this Switzerland-born Frenchman’s sound, which is indebted to Miles Davis’ avant-funk 70s work, especially in his creative use of electronic sound effects. Hip-hop flavours and elements from drum’n’bass and African music also permeate Truffaz’s consistently interesting and fiercely contemporary work.

48: Arve Henriksen (born 1968)

Topping the list of Norway’s best jazz trumpeters, Henriksen has a sound all his own – one that equates more to a Japanese shakuhachi flute than a conventional trumpet. His sound is breathy and mellow, and usually framed by ethereal electronics to create an aura of tranquil meditation.

47: Mugsy Spanier (1901-1967)

Chicago’s Francis “Mugsy” Spanier was a cornet player who fell under the spell of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong and launched his career in the 20s; in the late 30s, after switching to the trumpet, he spearheaded a Dixieland jazz revival. In the 40s, Spanier played with Sidney Bechet and Bob Crosby, while in the following decade he joined Earl Hines’ band. A master of the muted trumpet, Spanier played in a vibrant manner that always seemed to exude joie de vivre.

46: Randy Brecker (born 1945)

The elder sibling of saxophonist Michael Brecker, this Pennsylvania trumpet maestro is defined by his I-can-play-anything versatility. In the 60s, he learned his craft playing with Clark Terry, Duke Pearson, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In 1975, Brecker and brother Mike formed the funky ensemble Brecker Bros. Brecker’s myriad credits as a sideman (he’s recorded with everyone from Aerosmith to Lou Reed) tend to overshadow his own solo work but he remains one of the best jazz trumpeters alive right now.

45: Doc Cheatham (1905-1997)

Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham came from Nashville and started out playing saxophone professionally (he played with singer Ma Rainey in the 20s) before switching to trumpet and landing a long stint in Cab Calloway’s band in the 30s. But it wasn’t until much later, during Cheatham’s twilight years in the 70s, that his career really blossomed and led to a string of albums under his own name, one of which won a Grammy in 1996.

44: Nicholas Payton (born 1973)

From the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans-born Payton was a child trumpet prodigy (he started playing professionally at the age of 10) who, in his early 20s, was playing with drumming legend Elvin Jones and Hammond hero Jimmy Smith. Payton’s recording career as a solo artist began in 1994 and, to date, he’s shown himself to be a versatile, eclectic trumpeter who in recent years has married jazz with electronics, looped beats, and neo-soul.

43: Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (born 1983)

Just 19 when he released his debut album, New Orleans-born Adjuah – the nephew of Crescent City saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr – has risen to become one of today’s young trumpet gods. His sound, which he describes as “stretch music” (after his 2015 album of the same name), is an eclectic coalescence of elements from jazz, hip-hop, rock, electronica and ambient music.

42: Dizzy Reece (born 1931)

One of only a few non-Americans to record for Blue Note in the 50s, Jamaican-born Alphonso “Dizzy” Reece was a professional musician by the time he was 16 but his career rapidly took off after a move to Europe, where he truly entered the ranks of the best jazz trumpeters in history. His admirers included Miles Davis, and fellow trumpeter Donald Byrd guested on the Jamaican’s Blue Note debut, Blues In Trinity. Reece also worked with Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon, though he remains a cult figure.

41: Roy Hargrove (born 1969)

From Waco, Texas, Roy Hargrove showed early promise and scooped the first of two Grammys while still in his 20s. A superlative improviser with hard bop roots, he also ran a band parallel to his solo career, The RH Factor, which blended jazz with funk and neo-soul. On the recording front, Hargrove has been quiet in recent years but he remains a formable player.

40: Arturo Sandoval (born 1949)

A leading figure in contemporary Latin jazz, this Cuban-born musician fell under the spell of bebop as a juvenile and eventually got to record with his musical hero, Dizzy Gillespie, who became his mentor. Sandoval was also a member of the Grammy-winning Cuban group Irakere in the 70s and 80s. With his flowing, bop-inflected melodic lines underpinned by sizzling Latin rhythms, he’s one of the most technically accomplished trumpeters of his generation.

39: Harry James (1916-1983)

A master of swing, Georgia-born Harry James entered the best jazz trumpeters ranks while learning his craft in the popular big bands of Ben Pollack and Benny Goodman in the 30s, before launching his own ensemble during World War II. An accomplished technician who could play with verve and swagger, James’ band was also renowned for showcasing up-and-coming talent, including a young Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich.

38: Bubber Miley (1903-1932)

James “Bubber” Miley was an extraordinarily gifted trumpeter from South Carolina whose ingenious use of a mute (with which he could produce a crying, wah-wah effect) helped define the sound and style of The Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 20s. Though he left Ellington in 1929 (and died shortly after from TB, aged 29) the innovations he wrought had a lasting impact on the sound of Duke’s band.

37: Dave Douglas (born 1963)

A prolific bandleader and sideman from East Orange, New Jersey, Douglas earned his spurs playing with hard bop legend Horace Silver but has never been afraid to explore new sonic ground. His shape-shifting, genre-defying music – fronted by his mobile horn – reflects the influence of free jazz, eastern European folk music and electronica.

36: Tomasz Stanko (born 1942)

This Polish trumpeter first became acquainted with jazz via US radio broadcasts in the years immediately following World War II. By the early 60s, influenced by Ornette Coleman, Stanko became one of Europe’s leading exponents of free jazz. Stanko’s signature sound is unique, combining a gorgeous, aching lyricism, à la Miles Davis, with an exploratory, probing, free jazz approach.

35: Terence Blanchard (born 1962)

From New Orleans, Blanchard’s five Grammy Awards secure him his place among the world’s best jazz trumpeters, though he first came to prominence when he replaced Wynton Marsalis in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1982, eventually becoming its musical director. In the 90s, Blanchard appeared on the radar of the wider public via the soundtracks he composed to several Spike Lee movies, including Mo’ Better Blues. A versatile musician, Blanchard has embraced funk- and electronica-inflected music in recent years but without sacrificing the deep jazz core that’s the foundation of his being.

34: Jonah Jones (1909-2000)

From Louisville, Kentucky, Robert “Jonah” Jones first earned a living playing trumpet on Mississippi riverboats before his recruitment into the big swing-era bands of Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway. In the 50s, Jones – perceived by some as Louis Armstrong’s heir apparent – started to enjoy huge commercial success as a solo artist, with his bright tone, lucid phrasing, and New Orleans infections reaping mainstream adulation.

33: Wynton Marsalis (born 1961)

When acoustic jazz was in the doldrums in the 70s and early 80s, New Orleans-born Marsalis (an outspoken critic of anything fusion-esque or avant-garde) became its saviour, reviving the traditional straight-ahead style to great success. In recent years, Marsalis’ music has become more exploratory, and he remains one of the best jazz trumpeters of his generation.

32: Freddie Webster (1916-1947)

Like Fats Navarro, Webster, from Cleveland, Ohio, died before his talent reached maturity and a wider audience. Though his recordings are few (and mostly as a sideman, with Jimmie Lunceford’s band, for example, and Sarah Vaughan), Webster sits among the world’s best jazz trumpeters because of the profound influence he had on other horn blowers – most notably, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Speaking in the 60s, the latter said Webster “probably had the best sound of the trumpet since the trumpet was invented, a sound that was alive, just alive and full of life”.

31: Hot Lips Page (1908-1954)

Born Oran Page but dubbed “Hot Lips” because of his incendiary, bravura trumpet style, this Texas trumpet titan began his career as a teenager in the 20s before becoming a crucial contributor to the big band swing era in the 30s, when he played with the bands of Bennie Moten, Count Basie and Artie Shaw. Like Louis Armstrong, Page’s talent wasn’t limited to playing the trumpet, as he also proved a capable, blues-style singer.

30: Cootie Williams (1911-1985)

Born Charles Williams in Mobile, Alabama, Cootie worked with stride pianist James P Johnson in the late 20s before joining Duke Ellington’s band (replacing Bubber Miley), where he stayed for 11 years. Williams built his reputation on his skilful use of the plunger mute and creating a wild “jungle” trumpet sound on some of Ellington’s more exotic mood pieces.

29: Cat Anderson (1916-1981)

Few trumpeters could blow as high and wide as William “Cat” Anderson, a South Carolina musician who only made a handful of records under his own name, and who could span five octaves with his horn. He cut his teeth in the bands of Lucky Millinder and Lionel Hampton before landing in the principal trumpet chair of Duke Ellington’s orchestra. Between 1944 and 1971, Anderson enjoyed three separate long stints with Ellington and became famed for his exceptional high-note trumpet work.

28: Clark Terry (1920-2015)

Beginning on the valve trombone, Terry, from St Louis, Missouri, switched to the trumpet and first made his name in the orchestras of jazz aristocrats Duke Ellington and Count Basie during the 40s and 50s. Able to play both swing and bebop with aplomb, Terry mentored a young Miles Davis and recorded a slew of albums both as a sideman and under his own name. One of the best jazz trumpeters of his time, Terry was also a devotee of the mellow, richer-sounding flugelhorn.

27: King Oliver (1881-1938)

Author of the early classic jazz tunes ‘Dippermouth Blues’ and ‘Doctor Jazz’, Joseph “King” Oliver was a principal architect of the New Orleans sound and mentored a young Louis Armstrong, who appeared with him on sides such as ‘Canal Street Blues’ – reason alone for Oliver’s status as one of the best jazz trumpeters in history. The use of muted trumpets in jazz is largely down to Oliver, whose early inspiration was Buddy Bolden. Oliver played cornet up until the late 20s, when he switched to trumpet.

26: Fats Navarro (1923-1950)

Sadly, the promise of this Florida horn man’s huge potential was never fulfilled, thanks to the lethal combination of heroin and tuberculosis that took his life at 26. A rising star of bebop who played with that movement’s chief movers and shakers (including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke), Navarro’s virtuosic style had an indelible impact on Clifford Brown’s style.

25: Louis Smith (1931-2016)

The cousin of Booker Little, Memphis-born Smith relocated to Michigan where he had opportunities to play with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Thad Jones before embarking on a solo career after a stint in the army. Influenced by Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown, Smith’s vibrant sound and ability to both swing and play ballads convincingly resulted in a contract with Blue Note in 1958. He dropped off the jazz radar soon after, only to reappear 20 years later.

24: Booker Little (1938-1961)

This Memphis musician’s death, at the tender age of 23, robbed the world of a sensational player who seemed destined for greatness as one of the best jazz trumpeters the world has ever seen. Though hard bop was hardwired into his musical DNA, Little’s work with John Coltrane and free jazz exponent Eric Dolphy (he co-led a band with the latter in the early 60s) evidenced that the virtuosic Little was interested in exploring jazz’s outer limits.

23: Hugh Masekela (born 1939)

The world at large first became aware of this South African trumpeter and flugelhorn player when he scored a substantial US hit in 1968 with the infectious instrumental ‘Grazin’ In The Grass’. He started out in 1959 as a member of The Jazz Epistles, the first African jazz combo to record an LP. When South Africa’s apartheid regime outlawed jazz, Masekela fled to Europe, and then the US, where he forged a stellar solo career fusing jazz with South African township rhythms. He continues to find new forms of expression, recently collaborating with J’Something, singer with South African house group Mi Casa.

22: Eddie Henderson (born 1940)

Not content with being one of the best jazz trumpeters in history, Henderson is also qualified – and practiced as – a medical doctor. He got his big break playing in Herbie Hancock’s envelope-pushing Mwandishi band in the early 70s before going on to forge a successful solo career. An acolyte of Miles Davis, Henderson – who has a burnished tone and likes to use space – initially played fusion before reverting to a more straight-ahead mode of jazz in his later years.

21: Maynard Ferguson (1928-2006)

It was a long-standing joke that Ferguson could play notes so high that only dogs could hear them. Originally from Canada, he served his musical apprenticeship in Stan Kenton’s band before leading his own groups. A flamboyant showman as well as virtuoso horn player, Ferguson could dazzle audiences with his show-stopping, stratospheric high notes and, in the 70s, embraced rock and pop styles which led to mainstream chart success.

20: Art Farmer (1928-1999)

A prolific recording artist, this Iowan horn maestro emerged in the early 50s as an accomplished purveyor of hard bop who, stylistically, was heavily indebted to Freddie Webster and Miles Davis. Like Miles, Farmer – who often preferred the mellower flugelhorn – had a lyrical disposition and was adept at demonstrating emotional restraint, even though he could blow hard and fast, and swing when he needed to.

19: Don Ellis (1934-1978)

Though his mainstream fame rests with the soundtrack music he composed for the gritty 1971 urban crime thriller The French Connection, LA-born Ellis was a jazz innovator who, as well as being an accomplished soloist, composer and arranger, was a keen experimenter. He played and wrote music in unusual time signatures, drew on Eastern music for inspiration and employed various electronic effects with an amplified horn.

18: Harry “Sweets” Edison (1915-1999)

From Columbus, Ohio, Edison – whose nickname referred to his popularity with the ladies – was a stalwart of the Count Basie band between 1937 and 1950. After that, he relocated to the US West Coast and, as well as making a raft of albums under his own name, he became a first-call studio musician easily earning his place alongside the best jazz trumpeters of all time. Adept at playing muted trumpet as well as an open horn, Sweets showed an acute sensitivity when playing ballads but could swing hard on uptempo material.

17: Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931)

With his purity of tone, relaxed approach and gift for melodic embellishment, this self-taught cornet player from Iowa first recorded with the Wolverine Orchestra in the early 20s before making an indelible mark in the large ensembles of Jean Goldkette, Frank Trumbauer and Paul Whiteman in the latter part of the same decade. He also made recordings under his own name, which helped to cement his place in the jazz history books as one its first great improvisers.

16: Buddy Bolden (1877-1931)

Active in the first decade of the 20th Century, New Orleans-born Bolden – about whose life myths abound – was one of jazz’s early horn stars. Though no recordings of him survive, some of his compositions do – and these, along with his oversized legend, are enough to place him high in this list of the 50 best jazz trumpeters of all time. Preferring to play the trumpet’s close cousin, the compact-shaped, smaller cornet, Bolden was instrumental in shaping the sound of early Big Easy-style jazz, introducing a syncopated drum beat (dubbed the “Big Four”) that was more conducive for group improvisation than a straight marching-band rhythm.

15: Don Cherry (1936-1995)

A sidekick of free jazz magus Ornette Coleman between 1958 and 1961, Oklahoma-born Cherry was a doyen of avant-garde jazz whose favourite horn was the more compact pocket trumpet. Away from Coleman’s band, Cherry recorded with Coltrane and also made many envelope-pushing LPs under his own name, and in later years embraced music from other cultures. His musical calling card is producing a stream of rapidly-blown notes and eerie note bends.

14: Kenny Dorham (1924-1972)

A leading player of the hard bop era in the 50s, but whose work is often unheralded, Texas-born Dorham (real name McKinley Dorham) was in the very first incarnation of The Jazz Messengers. Though he didn’t live to see his 50th birthday, Dorham left behind a rich legacy of recorded solo work and a classic composition in the shape of ‘Blue Bossa’. Technically accomplished, Dorham’s fearless experimentation (he dabbled with Afro-Cuban music and Brazilian bossa nova grooves) more than earns him his place among the world’s best jazz trumpeters.

13: Nat Adderley (1931-2000)

A virtuoso of the trumpet and its close relative, the cornet, Tampa-born Adderley was a longtime stalwart of his elder brother Cannonball Adderley’s band between 1955 and ’75, and was instrumental in the birth of the gospel-blues-infused soul-jazz style (he wrote one of the genre’s key tunes, the immortal and much-covered ‘Work Song’). Outside of his brother’s band, Adderley cut a slew of solo albums, each one distinguished by his bluesy horn work.

12: Blue Mitchell (1930-1979)

Miami-born trumpeter Richard “Blue” Mitchell played with Earl Bostic while still in high school, then later, in 1958, got spotted by fellow Floridian Cannonball Adderley and joined the saxophonist at Riverside Records. Mitchell’s main claim to fame was playing with Horace Silver’s quintet between 1960 and ’69. A hard bop stylist with a limpid and soulful tone, he also enjoyed 19 successful years as a solo artist at a variety of labels, including Blue Note.

11: Thad Jones (1923-1986)

The brother of both drummer Elvin Jones and pianist Hank Jones, this self-taught horn blower from Pontiac, Michigan, was a key figure in Count Basie’s band (as an arranger and soloist) during the late 50s and early 60s while enjoying a parallel solo career that saw him cement his status as one of the world’s best jazz trumpeters with recordings for the Blue Note and Prestige labels. In the mid-60s, Jones joined forces with drummer Mel Lewis to found the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.

10: Woody Shaw (1944-1989)

Originally from North Carolina and raised in New Jersey, Woody Shaw was the most accomplished and technically advanced horn blower to emerge in the 60s (he cut his teeth with keyboardists Horace Silver and Larry Young), though he didn’t begin to blossom until the following decade when he began to record prolifically as a solo artist. With his use of wide intervallic leaps, polytonal harmonic concepts and absorption of musical elements from other cultures, Shaw was nothing less than a trumpet phenom who more than earns his place among the 50 best jazz trumpeters of all time.

9: Donald Byrd (1932-2013)

Able to synthesise a bravura trumpet technique with a gift for dazzling improv and an astute emotional acuity, Detroit-born Byrd was a leading light of the hard bop scene in the late 50s and early 60s before incurring the wrath of the jazz police by turning to fusion and funk in the 70s. Ironically, Byrd’s best-selling LP, 1972’s Gold-certified Black Byrd, boasted very little improvisation, but took the trumpeter’s name to a wider audience.

8: Roy Eldridge (1911-1989)

Though short in stature (hence his nickname, Little Jazz), this Pittsburgh musician was a true giant among trumpet players. The way he structured his solos stemmed from the influence of Louis Armstrong, but in terms of sound and style, Eldridge found his own distinctive voice and developed a complex melodic, harmonic and rhythmic language that anticipated bebop (Dizzy Gillespie was a huge Eldridge fan).

7: Chet Baker (1929-1988)

With his matinee-idol good looks, Oklahoma-born Chesney Henry Baker rose to fame in the 50s as the poster boy of West Coast cool jazz. Though he had female fans that were besotted by his dreamy singing voice, it was his trumpet playing – spare, unadorned, lyrical and suffused with tender feeling – that was his greatest musical attribute.

6: Lee Morgan (1938-1972)

Boasting a bright tone and dazzling technique, this Philly-born horn sensation was still a teenager when he played on Coltrane’s 1957 classic Blue Train LP. Morgan’s solo career had, in fact, began a year earlier at Blue Note and continued while the young trumpet prodigy was a member of The Jazz Messengers between 1958 and ’61. An exponent of hard bop, Morgan scored a hit with ‘The Sidewinder’ in 1964 but moved to more exploratory jazz in the latter stage of his short career.

5: Clifford Brown (1930-1956)

Affectionately dubbed “Brownie” by his friends, Pennsylvania’s Clifford Brown was tragically cut down in his prime at the age of 25 (he perished in a car accident) but made such a profound impact with his music during his short life that his influence can still be felt and heard today. A key figure in the birth of hard bop, Brown’s warm trumpet sound blended sensitivity with a virtuosic athleticism.

4: Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008)

This flamboyant and charismatic Indianapolis trumpeter laid the foundations of his career playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the early 60s before embarking on a hugely successful solo career. For Hubbard, whose technical command of his instrument was breathtakingly brilliant, improvising was as natural as breathing. After beginning as a hard bop exponent, Hubbard ventured into soul-jazz territory, then, in the mid-70s, followed a more commercial path. A veritable trumpet Titan.

3: Miles Davis (1926-1991)

Though his chops and technical abilities were not on a par with the flashier Satchmo and bebop maven Dizzy, no one could play ballads more beautifully than Miles, who infused his lean but elegant solos with a sense of languorous desolation. For Miles, using silence and space creatively were just as important as playing notes in helping to convey a mood or atmosphere. Aside from his trumpet playing, Miles was arguably the greatest bandleader in jazz, leading several groundbreaking ensembles from the 50s onwards that helped shape the course of jazz.

2: Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993)

Famed for his puffed-out cheeks and custom-built “bent” horn, this founding father of bebop and pioneer of modern jazz (born John Birks Gillespie) combined jaw-dropping technical brilliance with ultra-advanced harmonic concepts and set the bar for horn-playing from the late 40s onwards. A disciple of Roy Eldridge, South Carolina-born Dizzy was also a crucial figure in the birth of Latin jazz, and famed for his big band Afro-Cuban fusion sound.

1: Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)

Sitting at the top of this list of the 50 best jazz trumpeters of all time is one of New Orleans’ most famous sons. Before the arrival of the gravel-voiced Satchmo – who rose to fame in King Oliver’s Chicago-based band in the early 20s – jazz was defined by collective rather than individual improvisation, but Armstrong’s unparalleled gift for embroidering melodies led him to reinvent the nascent genre as a vehicle for solo extemporisation. A gigantic, hugely influential figure in the history of jazz, popular music would not be the same without him.

Looking for more? Discover the best jazz singers and best jazz saxophonists of all time.

Listen to the best jazz music on Spotify.

86 Comments

86 Comments

  1. Music

    January 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    You got the date of death wrong for Dizzy

  2. Carlo Colli

    January 23, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    Buck Clayton???

  3. Jimmy Mac

    January 23, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    Doc Severinsen?

  4. Brian

    January 23, 2018 at 7:42 pm

    Can’t argue with the top 3, creative geniuses and musical giants for sure.

    • miles davis

      December 12, 2019 at 4:09 pm

      well i can. Miles should be one and dizzy two then louis. shis kebabs.

  5. Jim

    January 23, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    Miles was a genius but more as a leader and innovator than a soloist; I love him & have most of his work, but for the purposes of this list, I’d put Brown, Morgan, and maybe Dorham over him. Not sure it accomplishes anything to compare cross-generationally anyway…

    • James Engle

      February 8, 2018 at 7:08 am

      Clifford more consistently displayed incredibly creative and technically complex solos….genius…but there are moments, if you have been through the Miles discography, when Miles display a fluency, complexity and range! that belies all that stuff about his trpt playing skills.

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 25, 2019 at 2:41 pm

      Yes, Miles was a genius BUT he cheated when he claimed to have written SOLAR.
      The real composer was the great guitarist CHUCK WAYNE.
      It was entitled SONNY.

  6. Wobbly

    January 23, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    Where’s Wild Bill Davison?

  7. Dion

    January 23, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    Harry Jame is tops for pure listening pleasure, and rightly called ‘The man with the golden trumpet’. No one can touch him, he was in a class of his own.

  8. TOM CARVALHO

    January 23, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    Freddie Hubbard ranked higher than Clifford Brown??? Somebody fell on their head!!!

  9. Paul Emony

    January 24, 2018 at 12:34 am

    Dupree Bolton?

  10. MD92468

    January 24, 2018 at 1:08 am

    Duško Gojković rarely gets the recognition he deserves…I’d put him in above several of the players in the 40s here…

  11. MD92468

    January 24, 2018 at 1:08 am

    Duško Gojković rarely gets the recognition he deserves…I’d put him in above several of the players in the 40s here…

  12. Mike H

    January 24, 2018 at 2:47 am

    Where is Buck Clayton?

  13. Gary

    January 24, 2018 at 5:12 am

    David Stall, Chuck Mangeone, Bill Chase

    • Joe Cogan

      January 28, 2018 at 5:12 pm

      Chuck Mangione plays flugelhorn. Similar, but not the same instrument.

  14. Carl Schreiner

    January 24, 2018 at 6:22 am

    Where is Hanibal Marvin Petersen and Lester Bowie ! !
    Nr. 1 is Miles Davis !

  15. John Fowler

    January 24, 2018 at 7:27 am

    Crazy list, so Henry ‘Red’ Allen was no good, Bunny Berrigan no good? Wingy Manone, Louis Prima, Nat Gonella, OK maybe they weren’t the greatest but at least they played jazz not like many on the list. Beiderbecke should be number one or two only….he played the cornet not the trumpet.

  16. Jon Stone

    January 24, 2018 at 8:35 am

    We all have our personal favourites but that shouldn’t be confused with “best. In the main I think this is admirable list.

  17. Vladimir Sucic

    January 24, 2018 at 10:37 am

    Shorty Rogers

  18. Nzualo

    January 24, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    The trumpeter of freedom, Hugh Masehela (1939 -2018). Thanks for all Masekela

  19. Nzualo

    January 24, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    The trumpeter of freedom, Hugh Masekela (1939 – 2018) dies. Thanks for all Masekela.

    https://www.udiscovermusic.com/news/trumpeter-hugh-masekala-dies-78/

  20. Walter Grape

    January 24, 2018 at 3:04 pm

    Bunk Johnson- why is he forgotten? A legend !

  21. Georg Facius

    January 24, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    Remember Valaida “Little Louis” Snow

  22. Jon Dingwall

    January 24, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    Howard mcGhee was Fats Navarro”s hero and fellow Americans Ted Daniel , Richard Williams , Dupree Bolton , Benn bailey & Charles Jefferson arguably deserve a mention.
    Canadian Kenny Wheeler was a virtuoso as was Scotlands Jimmy deuchar , England’s Henry Lowther & Italian Enrico Rava…to mention but a few !!!

  23. Paddy Hanner

    January 24, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    I’d have put Kenny Dorham third on this list! He played with Bird, Monk & Diz. Yes, I believe he was even better than Miles!

  24. Peter

    January 24, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    Many good choices here. Dizzy is rated too highly in my opinion. He was a great innovator who helped form the language we all use today, but there were better players even among his contemporaries (Fats Navarro comes to mind…) What makes a jazz trumpet player great? Is it because of their innovations, or because they were soloists in a great big band
    (Bubber Miley, Harry Edison), or were on famous recordings with a great sax players (Don Cherry, Nat Adderly)? Or is it more about mastery of the instrument and language of jazz? Not to diminish the contributions of these fine trumpet players, but I would include a few more modern greats if I were making a list. Tom Harrell definitely belongs on this list. I would also give consideration to Alex Sipiagin, Greg Gisbert, Marcus Printup, Tim Hagans, Ingrid Jensen, and Terell Stafford.

    • Peter

      January 24, 2018 at 7:56 pm

      Now that I consider it more; between his playing and his influence on the music…I would put Tom Harrell in the top 25 easily.

    • MD92468

      January 28, 2018 at 7:49 pm

      I didn’t even think of Harrell….that’s a pretty glaring omission…

  25. Shemesh Clark

    January 25, 2018 at 2:16 am

    Bill Chase?? Doc Sevrinson?? Jon Faddis?? Bud Brisbois??

  26. Shemesh Clark

    January 25, 2018 at 2:18 am

    Bill Chase?? Doc Sevrinson?? Jon Faddis??

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 13, 2019 at 11:52 pm

      Yes. It is a shame about Bill Chase (dead at 39).
      I thought that when I heard one of his hits (SO MANY PEOPLE), he played higher notes than Maynard.

    • Christopher Nowak

      October 1, 2019 at 2:26 pm

      Did you change your mind about BUD BRISBOIS Shemesh?

  27. Bryan Macklowe

    January 25, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    Bobby Hackett was another find musician who played both the trumpet and the cornet, as well as sometimes the guitar. He made a great contribution to Frank Sinatra’s 1947 version of “Body & Soul.” He also played frequently on Sinatra’s radio and TV programs, including the songs “We’ll Be Together Again” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You.” I like Hackett’s work on a song called “It’s a Fine Life,” which I think was included on one of the Jackie Gleason albums of the ’50s.

  28. Steve F

    January 26, 2018 at 3:07 am

    Pleased to see Chet Baker in the top ten but could and should be top 5. Amazing player who makes you feel every note. Despite tough times and a brilliant early career, he still sounded great late in his career. Chet was West Coast Cool.

  29. Arthur Blendline

    January 27, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Christian Scott and Nicholas Payton got switched somehow. Must be a misprint.

  30. Noah

    January 28, 2018 at 12:14 am

    Bobby Hackett, Charlie Shavers (one of the greatest and most loved trumpeters of the swing era, and beyond), Ruby Braff, Tom Harell (helloooo???), Snooky Young (surely this list should also include lead players), Ambrose Akinmusire (I mean, have you even heard him?). The point is, all these players deserve to be up there but don’t consider lists like these complete- they are from it! And you are missing out on so many integral trumpeters by just limiting yourself to just these 50, use it as a jumping off point and that’s it!!

    • Bill Beran

      March 18, 2018 at 2:44 pm

      If your range stretches from Bobby Hackett and Charlie Shavers to Ambrose Akinmusire, you’ve obviously got some huge ears. I did hear Akinmusire and he flat out blew me away. With the state of recorded music today we can only hope and pray that he’s documented the way his talent deserves.

    • Bill Beran

      March 18, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      You must have some huge ears if your range stretches from Hackett to Akinmusire. I have heard Akinmusire and he flat-out blew me away. Hoping with the pathetic state of recorded music these days he gets documented the way his talent deserves.

  31. Drillon

    January 28, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    and Warren Wache et Lewis Solofff

  32. nora Jean

    January 28, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    No Bunny Berigan?

  33. Njmccawley

    January 28, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    No Bunny Berigan?

    • Chris Ferne

      February 5, 2018 at 4:12 pm

      My thought exactly. Easily the best trumpeter I’ve ever heard.

  34. Kaoru

    January 28, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    No Humphrey Lyttelton?

  35. Miguel Martínez

    January 28, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Dupree Bolton?

  36. Peter Clarke

    January 28, 2018 at 6:43 pm

    Why do we have to have the same post claiming to be from different late musicians clogging up our feed? I have this nearly twenty times! It is not necessary – once is enough. And it repeats every few weeks so we get it again.

  37. Jkeith

    January 29, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    Wallace Roney??

  38. Tobie

    February 3, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    Why is Roy Hargrove on this list? And why isn’t Kenny Wheeler?

  39. Ed

    February 4, 2018 at 2:01 am

    No Ian Carr?

  40. Mudada

    February 4, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    Charles Tolliver?

  41. John Lockard

    February 5, 2018 at 4:36 am

    Would like to have seen Lester Bowie and Leo Smith. Also, creative music like Jazz is better viewed as a collaboration and not a competition. Musicians make contributions, they don’t run races.

  42. James Engle

    February 8, 2018 at 7:17 am

    A fine overall list, with which I agree w few exceptions. A few cats are news to me. We all have our favorites, but nobody can deny Mr. Armstrong’s position. Not what Clifford coulda done, or Bix, or Fats, but thankful we had those cats when we did. I would have gone into a bit more detail on the importance of Miles and his depth and breadth and influence on all modern music, but like I said, we all…..etc. Thank you!!

  43. Josh

    February 12, 2018 at 6:35 am

    Tommy Turrentine -Stanley’s brother- is worth remembering.

  44. James Tyrell

    March 16, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    The great West Coast trumpeter Conte Candoli should be on that list. No Lester Bowie?
    No Buck Clayton?

  45. James Tyrell

    March 16, 2018 at 1:21 pm

    How about Wadada Leo Smith, Jack Sheldon, and Ted Curson? Most of these guys I’ve mentioned are much better than Marsalis.

  46. James Tyrell

    March 16, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Gotta agree about Ruby Braff, Charlie Shavers, Howard McGhee, Red Allen, and Roy Hargrove – they’re all tremendous.

  47. Michael Leddy

    March 16, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    I’ll comment only on omissions, not the rankings:

    Henry “Red” Allen, Lester Bowie, Ruby Braff, Bobby Hackett, Frankie Newton, Wadada Leo Smith, Rex Stewart (cornet).

  48. Palimpsestuous

    March 16, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Red Allen, Ruby Braff, Jabbo Smith, Kenny Wheeler, Bunny Berigan..?
    Not to mention Bill Dixon, Lester Bowie, Wadada Leo Smith.

    I love Cat Anderson and can tolerate Maynard Ferguson but it’s hard to rate a list that includes them to the omission of any of the above.

    In any event, it’s a thankless task.

  49. Don Frese

    March 16, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    I think Buck Clayton, Red Allen, Jabbo Smith, Johnny Coles, Bunny Berrigan, Red Rodney, Bobby Hackett, Joe Newman and Charles Tolliver are better than at least a dozen on the list. And there are many more.

    But as the previous commenter notes, a thankless task.

  50. Bill Beran

    March 18, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    There is always going to be someone left out but I would suggest that Enrico Rava is a more significant musician than at least half the people on this list.

  51. Larry Hollis

    March 18, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    Where’s Carmell Jones, Bill Hardman, Bobby Shew not to mention many others ?

  52. Steve Andrews

    March 18, 2018 at 7:08 pm

    No Bunny Berigan, Henry “Red” Allen, Rex Stewart? Come on…….

  53. John Bartholomew

    March 19, 2018 at 2:59 am

    The omission of Ray Nance is just plain wrong. Look at his legacy. It speaks for itself.

  54. James Tyrell

    March 19, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    Baikida Carroll? Shorty Rogers? As above, gotta add Ray Nance and Rex Stewart.
    I read somewhere that Conte Candoli was approached (by Roach via a Harold Land recommendation?) to replace Clifford Brown in the Brown/Roach Quartet. And Candoli’s not even in the top 50? The best Basie trumpeter of all time, who was also a spur and inspiration for Lester Young, is not in the top 50?

  55. Judy Bell

    March 20, 2018 at 2:23 am

    How could you leave Joe Wilder off the list!

  56. James Tyrell

    March 20, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Cat Anderson and Cootie Williams, but no Buck Clayton? Best TWO of the Ellington Orchestra, but not the best trumpeter of the Basie Orchestra? Don’t get this one.

  57. Scott

    April 8, 2018 at 4:49 am

    I’m not that familiar with some of the younger players that are on this list, but clearly, some older and classic greats were wrongly omitted (as many others have mentioned). In addition, I would add Chris Botti – highly underrated.

  58. Judith Kobus

    April 9, 2018 at 11:46 am

    Franco Ambrosetti???

  59. Robert

    April 27, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    Like most top jazz lists, this heavily skews to the earlier artists, which is understandable. I’m glad to see more recent players like Terence Blanchard and Dave Douglas mentioned, true modern masters, but leaving off the great Tom Harrell and especially the giant, Kenny Wheeler, is unfortunate.

  60. James

    May 10, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    Dizzy was highly over-rated. Lived off of Charlie Parker’s rep.

  61. Ed Smurph

    June 26, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    Bobby Bradford, Paul Smoker Baikida Carroll?

  62. Ronald W Stutrud

    July 3, 2018 at 12:30 am

    Steve Campos of Stan Kenton Orchestra

  63. ALBERTO

    July 29, 2018 at 1:09 am

    FALTAN DEMASIADOS MÚSICOS, CADA UNO TENEMOS NUESTRA LIASTA

  64. Ellen LaFurn

    September 13, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Remember Red Rodney? He played with Charlie Parker–should be in the top ten.

  65. Scott Spinharney

    September 25, 2018 at 2:25 am

    Where is Geddy Lee on this list?

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 14, 2019 at 12:06 am

      OH MY GOD!! YOU BETTER BE JOKING!!

  66. Yiannis88

    November 4, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    Leo Smith missing top 5 easily

  67. steve

    January 10, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    Al “He’s the King” Hirt. So under appreciated.

  68. monty

    January 14, 2019 at 3:20 am

    1.satchmo 2.clifford brown 3.fats Navarro 4.dizzy 5.lee morgan 6.miles davis 7.freddie hubbard 8.donald byrd 9.blue mitchell 10.buddy bolden 11.thad jones.. lee morgan(uncle) is my favorite and the best to me but as great as he is, you can not be greater than the foundation.

  69. Joe silver

    February 9, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    Claudio Roditi?

  70. Tom Coe

    March 29, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    Fred Dorfman?!??!?

  71. Charles Bartlett

    September 4, 2019 at 3:10 am

    Absolutely no disrespect to Hugh Masekela, he definitely had a unique style but how could he be included in the top 50 jazz trumpet players and not John Faddis or for that matter Chuck Mangione

  72. Christopher Nowak

    September 14, 2019 at 12:11 am

    ALEXIS BARRO?
    I thought that his name used to be ALEXIS BARROS.
    Does anyone out there agree?

  73. Christopher Nowak

    September 14, 2019 at 12:14 am

    Some people get mixed up with WOODY SHAW (trumpet) and ARTIE SHAW (clarinet and band leader).

  74. Christopher Nowak

    December 2, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    KEVIN TURCOTTE from Toronto, Ontario?!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don't Miss