Historically, the trumpet was only an instrument musicians played in orchestras, symphonies, and ensembles. The famous classical trumpet players on this list changed the instrument’s reputation. Their skills and styles have made the trumpet an instrument that stands out as a solo act.
The famous classical trumpet players listed here have played various styles of music, from jazz to swing to contemporary, but you’re always able to hear the classical influence. Whether they’re playing trumpet, cornet, piccolo trumpet, or flugelhorn, brace yourself to get blown away by this list of talent.
1. Wynton Marsalis
One of the most famous trumpeters of all time, Wynton Marsalis was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the birthplace of jazz.
His father was a pianist named Marsalis after the jazz pianist Wynton Kelly, so music is clearly in his blood.
Three of his brothers are also jazz musicians, playing saxophone, drums, and trombone.
He started playing trumpet when he was six years old but didn’t develop a passion until he turned 12. Marsalis attended Juilliard to study classical music but soon turned to jazz and is one of the few classical and jazz trumpet players.
In 1987, he formed a Classical Jazz series at the Lincoln Center that grew into an organization that continues to this day.
2. Alison Balsom
Alison Balsom is a female trumpet player who was born in England in 1978. She began playing trumpet when she was just seven years old and started playing in a band at age eight.
By the time she was 15, she was part of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.
Since 2001, Balsom has performed as a solo artist with the BBC Orchestra and as the principal trumpet of the London Chamber Orchestra.
She has recorded 15 albums and won many notable awards, such as the Best Female Artist at the Classical BRIT Awards, Artist of the Year from the Gramophone Classical Music Awards, and more.
3. Tine Thing Helseth
Tine Thing Helseth is a Norwegian classical trumpeter born in 1987. Her first experience with the trumpet was in the school band when she was just seven years old.
She later studied at the Barratt Due Institute of Music and the Norwegian Academy of Music.
Helseth has released albums on her own and as part of her brass ensemble, called tenThing. She has played at music festivals worldwide, including the Nobel Peace Prize Concert.
Though she still relies on her classical roots, Helseth also plays and writes contemporary music.
4. Timofei Dokschitzer
Timofei Dokschitzer was a Russian trumpeter who started playing at ten years old.
For his musical education, he attended the Central Musical School, Gnesins Musical College, and Moscow State Conservatory. He later returned to Gnesins to work as a professor.
Dokschitzer’s unique sound comes from a love of Opera. He let this music influence his trumpeting so much that he helped the trumpet become known as a solo instrument, like a voice.
But that doesn’t mean that Dokschitzer only performed as a solo artist. He also played in orchestras for theaters.
5. Maurice André
Maurice André was born in France but didn’t have strong roots in music. He first worked as a coal miner along with his father.
By the time he was 18, he had earned a scholarship to attend the Paris Conservatory. The scholarship was dependent on him joining the military band.
In the Conservatory, André played trumpet and cornet. He eventually started a solo career and released over 300 recordings.
If he had trouble finding music he wanted, he’d take a piece written for other instruments and transcribe it to play on the trumpet.
Over his career, he became known for playing a piccolo trumpet and a specially-made trumpet with four valves.
6. Philip Smith
Philip Smith was born in the United Kingdom but moved to New York to attend Juilliard in 1970. By that time, he had played trumpet for a decade, learning from his father, a cornet player.
After Juilliard, Smith played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He then returned to New York City to play with the New York Philharmonic until 2014.
When Smith left New York, he moved to the South to become a trumpet professor at the University of Georgia.
He also serves as Bandmaster of the UGA British Brass Band and plays on the faculty quintet.
7. Sergei Nakariakov
Sergei Nakariakov is an Israeli-Russian trumpet player who made the flugelhorn a more popular instrument. A flugelhorn is heavier than the trumpet, and the wider bell gives it a more mellow sound.
He frequently played a custom flugelhorn with four valves to reach lower notes.
Nakariakov brought the unique sound of this instrument to his trumpet playing as well, making other musicians seek him out to add that sound to their pieces.
Nakariakov recorded his first solo album when he was 15. He has now recorded 18 albums, including solo works and recordings with symphonies or pianists.
8. Rafael Méndez
Rafael Méndez was born in Mexico but emigrated to the United States as a young adult.
He came from a musical family and played the cornet in Mexico but worked in the steel mills and automotive plants in America.
By the 1950s, Méndez had found his way back to music and performed full-time as a solo trumpet player. His skills were so impressive that he became known as the “Heifetz of the Trumpet,” named after famous violinist Jascha Heifetz.
Méndez also worked in Hollywood, leading the brass section of studio orchestras in movie soundtracks.
Méndez suffered from asthma in his later years, making it challenging to play the trumpet properly.
9. Derek Watkins
Derek Watkins was born in England to a musical family.
His great-grandfather was a brass player with the Salvation Army, his grandfather was a brass teacher at Reading University, and his father conducted the Reading Springs Gardens Brass Band.
With all of this history, it’s no surprise that Watkins started playing the cornet when he was four. By the time he was 17, he was a professional.
He played in bands and orchestras at the Astoria Ballroom and London Palladium before touring with Benny Goodman.
Later in life, he became a studio musician and recorded with acts like Elton John, Frank Sinatra, and the Beatles.
10. Ryan Anthony
Ryan Anthony’s parents were musicians, with his mother playing cello and piano and his father directing a band.
Though Anthony started as a violinist, he later learned trumpet because that’s what his grandfather played.
He attended the Cleveland Institute of Music on full scholarship, then became a trumpet professor at Oberlin Conservatory. Anthony played in many ensembles and orchestras in this time, including the Canadian Brass and Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Doctors diagnosed Anthony with cancer when he was 43, which led to his founding Cancer Blows, a nonprofit that raises money for cancer treatment and the search for a cure.
Anthony died at the age of 51, but his music and charity live on.
11. Jean-Baptiste Arban
Jean-Baptiste Arban was a French conductor and composer who also played cornet.
He was the first musician to make the cornet famous and brought esteem to the instrument as worthy of solo play.
He studied at the Conservatoire and eventually became the cornet professor there. Arban recorded a phonograph, which was quite a feat for that time.
Arban, influenced by Niccolò Paganini’s violin techniques, worked to apply them to the cornet. This eventually ended up in him producing a book!
The Arban Method is often called the “Trumpeter’s Bible” and is still taught to contemporary brass players.
Summing up Our List of Famous Classical Trumpet Players
The trumpeters on this list vary in style and accomplishments, but all have a strong background in classical trumpet playing.
When you listen to their performances, you can hear all of the hallmarks of classical music.
If you can think of any classical trumpet players we left off this list, let us know in the comments!