Like sax players, any discussion of the best trumpeters is likely to involve some of the same names. And that's not happenstance. It's because the playing of those greats is so distinctive, prodigious and influential that it truly stands out among countless other horn players. Keep reading for a rundown of the ten best trumpeters of all time.
See also: The ten best saxophonists of all time
10. Art Farmer Trumpeter and flugelhorn player Art Farmer started out playing bop with Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins, Gerry Mulligan and Gigi Gryce throughout the '50s, but the warm toned Farmer later branched out beyond bop. Since he was versed in various styles, he was hired by arrangers like George Russell and Quincy Jones. Farmer co-led the Jazztet in 1959, and with tenor man Benny Golson, and the band's 1960 release Meet the Jazztet was a brilliant disc. As a leader, Farmer released some great albums, including 1963's Live at the Half-Note, which also features guitarist Jim Hall.
9. Chet Baker With a warm and relaxed tone, trumpeter Chet Baker was chief player in West Coast cool jazz of the early and mid '50s, when he recorded some great albums for Pacific Jazz, including Chet Baker Sings, which also showcased his wispy vocals, and Chet Baker & Crew, one of the many fine discs he made with tenor player Phil Urso (who lived in Denver in the '90s and passed away here five years ago). While Baker released a number of fine albums early in his career, he was quite prolific in the ten years leading up to his death in Amsterdam in 1988.
8. Lee Morgan A major force in hard bop, Lee Morgan got his start in Dizzy Gillespie's big band when he was eighteen and went on to record on John Coltrane's epic 1957 album, Blue Train, as well a number of discs with Hank Mobley and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. As a leader, Morgan released some solid albums throughout the late '50s and '60s, including his most famous, The Sidewinder, Search for the New Land and Cornbread. The three-disc Live at the Lighthouse, recorded in 1970, is one of Morgan's stronger efforts later in his short life, as he was shot (and later died) nearly two years later at the age of 33 while playing a gig at an East Village jazz club by his common-life wife Helen More.
7. Donald Byrd While Donald Byrd released some damn fine hard bop albums on Blue Note in the late '50s and early '60s, like Byrd in Hand, Fuego and the outstanding A New Perspective, the trumpeter later went on to delve into funk and soul jazz throughout the '70s, like Black Byrd and Places and Spaces. As a sideman, Byrd also performed and recorded with a number of legendary players like Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Herbie Hancock and Wes Montgomery. In the early '90s, rapper Guru, of Gang Starr fame, tapped Byrd to play on Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1, one of the first discs to fuse live jazz and hip-hop, as well as its followup, Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality.
6. Fats Navarro Like fellow trumpeters Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, Theodore "Fats" Navarro showed incredible promise early in his career but died early -- he was just 26 years old when he passed away in 1959 from a combination of a heroin addiction and tuberculosis. Along with Dizzy Gillespie, Navarro was one of bebop's greatest trumpeters, and a main influence on Brown, Navarro performed and recorded with Tad Dameron and Kenny Clarke throughout the '40s.
5. Freddie Hubbard Since releasing his superb debut Open Sesame in 1960, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard went on to be a colossal player in hard bop in part thanks to a three-year stint with Art Blakey's Jazz Messenger in the early '60s. His Blue Note recordings of the '60s like Ready for Freddie, Hub-Tones and Breaking Point rank as some of his finest hard bop recordings. As he ventured into post-bop and soul jazz over the next decade, the early '70s Columbia recordings Red Clay and Straight Life were also key highlights of his five-decade long career.
4. Clifford Brown Trumpeter Clifford Brown was just 25 years old in 1956 when he died in a car accident, but his influence would live on for decades later, and he inspired countless players like Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd. Brown himself was influenced by Fats Navarro, as documented on a number of albums Brown recorded over the four years prior to his death, including some fantastic records with drummer Max Roach and an incredible 1955 album with singer Sarah Vaughan, Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown. As a composer, Brown penned "Joy Spring" and "Daahoud," both of which became heavily played jazz standards.
3. Dizzy Gillespie While trumpeter John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was one of the primary architects in the development of bebop, he was also a key figure in the Afro-Cuban movement as well. A virtuosic player, Gillespie could play at dizzying tempos, as well at excel in the high register. As a leader, Gillespie released dozens of albums until he died in 1993 at the age of 75. He issued some very strong discs during the '50s, like Diz & Getz, Bird & Diz and his 1957 live album, recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival. There's also some stellar playing by Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Bud Powell on Quintet's legendary live album, Jazz at Massey Hall, one of the greatest bop records ever.
2. Miles Davis A monumental innovator, Miles Davis himself said he changed music five or six times. With his Birth of the Cool album, recorded in the late '40s but not released until 1956, Davis helped kick-start the cool jazz movement. Kind of Blue, his 1959 album, is arguably the best album in jazz history. On that effort, Davis moved away from the complex chord changes and fast tempos of bebop in favor or less chords and a more relaxed feel. A decade later, Davis helped usher in jazz-rock fusion with In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. While Davis might not have been able to hit the super high notes and play at breakneck speeds like Dizzy Gillespie, Davis preferred the middle register, and he once said, "Music is the space between the notes. It's not the notes you play; it's the notes you don't play."
1. LOUIS ARMSTRONG One of most influential figures in the history of jazz, Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong's innovative, virtuosic trumpet playing and masterful phrasing, as well as his singing, has inspired generations of musicians for decades. Armstrong played on New Orleans riverboats early in his career before moving to Chicago in the early '20s to join Joe "King" Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. During the mid '20s, Armstrong recorded some exceptional material, songs like "West End Blues" and "Potato Head Blues" with his infamous Hot Five and Hot Seven groups. Armstrong continued to release some outstanding recordings, hits like "Hello Dolly!" and "What a Wonderful World," over the next few decades, and he continued to tour up until a few years before his death in 1971 at the age of 69.