15 Best Trumpet Players and their Best Performances

When one hears jazz, you can’t help but think of Louis Armstrong. In jazz all roads lead back to him. He was one the greatest trumpeter of all time. By extension, the trumpet has become an integral part of jazz. He has inspired and paved way for numerous trumpet players. The 1950’s and 1960’s saw a steady stream of trumpeters rise to prominence. Their lineage and legacy is not short.

Here is a list of 15 best trumpet players and their remarkable performance you have to listen to.

Table of Contents

1. Louis Armstrong (1901 – 1971)

Louis Armstrong needs no introduction. He is known as the pioneer for the development of jazz-rock and fusion styles. He is recognized as the most masterful trumpeter of all time. He was also skilled at singing. His talents include acting and composing. He was a foundational influence in jazz. He was also lovingly called “pops” , “satch” and “satchmo”.

Louis’ musical career lasted from the 1920s to the 1960s. He has had many great performances in this time span but When The Saints Go Marching In can be considered as his best.

2. Miles Davis (1926-1991)

Miles Davis was a jazz trumpeter from America. Along with that, he was also a great bandleader and composer. Having a multi-directional musical career helped him be in front of major stylistic development in jazz. He defined the West Coast Genre of jazz music. His King of Blue was vastly popular and the most selling jazz album ever. He is one the biggest names in the trumpeting sphere.

His career spanned over five decades. One of his best performances would be when he performed Burns at Amnesty International. I bet the raging stadium would agree.

3. King Oliver (1881 – 1938)

King Oliver or Joseph Nathan was born in New Orleans. He was a known jazz cornet bandleader and became the first trumpeter to use mutes in jazz. In fact he can be called the father of jazz because of his contribution to the world. He formed a group in 1992 called King Oliver and his Creloe Jazz band and it gained a lot of recognition all over America. He also taught and mentored Louis Armstrong.

It is generally accepted among jazz connoisseurs that King Oliver and his Creloe Jazz were at their finest in the 1923 hit Riverside Blues.

4. Alison Balson (1978 – 2018)

Alison Balson, also called the mother of trumpeters, was well known in classical trumpeters. Considered as the greatest female classical trumpet players made her unique. She was awarded Artist of the Year at 2013 gramophone awards and won classic BRIT Awards and three German Echo Awards, and was soloist at the BBC Last Night of the Proms in 2009. Her talent was beyond words and never failed to captivate an audience. She’s a true inspiration to all female trumpeters.

III. Rondo Minore Miggiore by her is arguably the best trumpet probably ever.

5. Donald Byrd Ii (1932 – 2013)

Donald Byrd II was an American Jazz and rhythm & blues trumpeter and vocalist. He played sideman for a lot of big names in Jazz. He was one of the rare bebop Jazz musicians who explored funk and soul. Byrd’s album Free Form which was released in 1962 was super successful. This also had the first recordings of Hancock’s original compositions. He used to play in U. S. Air Force bands before he got his bachelor’s in music from Wayne State University of Detroit. He went on the get an M. A. In music and became a Jazz teacher at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

Byrd performed Blackbyrd at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973 and it is a must listen for every jazz enthusiast.

6. Freddie Hubbard (1938 – 2008)

Freddie Hubbard was one of the biggest players in hard bop. Some of his finest recordings were the Blue Note, Red Clay, Straight Life, etc. His tone has had an unmistakable influence on modern jazz and bebop. Later on in his career he went into post bop and soul jazz.

Freddie Hubbard’s Little Sunflower at Acona Jazz in 1985 was absolute brilliance.

7. Maynard Ferguson (1928 – 2006)

Maynard Ferguson was a Canadian jazz musician who was known for his bands. These bands acted as stepping stones for new talent. He has albums that range from operatic, classical, Latin, rock, bebop, etc. In 2003 he became a Member of the Order of Canada in 2003. Ferguson was awarded the Down Beat Readers’ Poll for best trumpeter.

Ferguson playing Gonna Fly Now from Rocky is something no one should miss out on.

8. James Morrison (1962 – present)

James Morrison is an Australian jazz musician. He can also play piano, saxophone, clarinet and a whole slew of other instruments along with the trumpet. He performed the opening of the Sydney Olympic Games in the year 2000 and won best jazz album at Aria Music Awards in 2010. He won Best Jazz Album Feels Like Spring the same year.

James Morrison playing Rider On The Strom with the Doors will send chills down your spine!

9. Dizzy Gillespie (1917 – 1993)

Dizzy Gillespie has had massive contributions in the development of the modern jazz world. He was an extremely talented composer and trombone player. He was great at improvising. In the beginning he built on Roy Eldridge’s style. Later on, he brought such complexity in jazz that was never heard before. He received a Grammy in the Lifetime Achievement category.

It is unforgivable to miss Dizzy’s fine form in this performance of Salt Peanuts from the 70s.

10. Wynton Marsalis (1961 – present)

Wynton Marsalis has won Grammy Awards in classical and jazz, two years in a row. His was the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize In Music.

Marsalis performing at Hydan Trumpet Concert in Eb, Boston is sure to make you go through the whole spectrum of emotions.

11. Clifford Brown (1930 – 1956)

Clifford Brown is one of the best trumpet players. Brown is most well-known for his “Joy Spring“. He also won the Down Beat critics’ poll in 1954. It was for New Star of the Year. He went on to be inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1972 in the critics’ poll. He unfortunately died in a car accident at 25.

Oh, Lady Be Good – Memories of You by Brown is perfection itself!

12. Chet Baker (1929 – 1988 )

Baker’s career is described as “James Dean, Frank Sinatra and Bix, all rolled into one”. One will find Baker often compared to James Dean. Many think he was born to be a star musician and okay music. He played a romantic and intimate style. Unfortunately, we lost him.

Time After Time is one of the best and is very wonderful. The tone of it just makes you feel a certain way. Definitely worth a listen.

13. Lee Morgan (1938 – 1972)

Lee Morgan had a successful but a short-lived career. He rose to prominence in his teenage years. Then he went on to become a sideman to Wyane Shorter and Hank Mobley. Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” became a massive hit. In 1964 Morgan took over the charts and was a massive success. Morgan played a variety of styles. As it evident from his recording. As a result of this, he grew as a musician and his craft matured.

The energy Lee brings on the stage is otherworldly. It is unmistakable in Lee Morgan’s Solo Trumpet Volume 2.

14. Cris Botti (1962 – present)

Cris Botti is a trumpeter from America and a brilliant music composer. He won a Grammy Award for best Pop Instrumental Album category. He rose to fame with his Night Sessions album in 2001. Botti established a good reputation. He played a wide range of music and was very versatile. He could play jazz as well as pop music very well. Not only that, but he could also combine both styles to make something beautiful.

Cinema Paradiso by Yo-Yo Ma and Cris Botti live in Boston with Boston Pops Orchestra is bound to touch your heart and soul.

15. Don Cherry (1936 – 1995)

Don Cherry was the pioneer of the world fusion music in 1960’s and 1970’s. His music used to incorporate funk and ethnic music from around the world. He fused his avant-garde vocabulary with folk and pop music. Critics were sometimes hard on Cherry. They were dismissive of him and his technique. But he proved them all wrong with his music. He was a very lyrical jazz trumpeter. Cherry’s trumpet influences included Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, and Harry Edison.

Bemsha Swing by Don Cherry and Herbie Hancock will get your feet tapping.

The trumpet is an uniquely intricate instrument and contributes a lot to every genre. These masters of their craft devoted their lives to it. They will live on in the hearts of music enthusiasts everywhere eternally.

About Ronald Ross

Being a seasoned musician myself, I share experiences that help other musicians on their journeys. Whether it's about musical equipment, streaming services, instruments or promoting music; I try to cover everything at Loud Beats. Learn more about me here.