30 Of The Greatest Most Famous Jazz Trumpet Players Of All Time

Last updated

The trumpet has a rich history, and it’s one of the most versatile instruments in any jazz ensemble. Any early jazz music would have the trumpet as its lead instrument due to its commanding sound.

If you love the sound of a jazz trumpet, you should know who some of the most influential jazz trumpeters are and learn about their influence on older and newer genres.

Thus in this post, we’re going to look at 30 of the most famous jazz trumpet players and how they have influenced the world of jazz and beyond. Read on!

1. Louis Armstrong


One of the most famous trumpet players of all time, Louis Armstrong had a rough childhood, and he started playing music after being arrested for firing a gun into the air.

A cornet player named King Oliver became a mentor to Armstrong, and he began subbing in for Oliver before taking over for him in a local band.

Soon after, Armstrong moved from New Orleans to Chicago to play with Oliver with brief spells of work in New York City but soon moved back to Chicago.

Around that time, Armstrong started singing on his recordings, and his career kept growing with huge hits such as “What a Wonderful World,” “La Vie en Rose,” “Hello, Dolly!,” and so many more.

2. King Oliver

Considered one of the pioneers of jazz, King Oliver had a great influence in the genre. As a musician, he initially played the trombone before switching to the cornet, which he played often, and then changed to the trumpet later on in his career.

In the early 1920s, King formed the Creole Jazz Band. They played in New Orleans before heading for Chicago and making it big there.

Consisting of Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin, Honoré Dutrey, and Bill Johnson, the band is probably best known for their performances of “Dippermouth Blues,” “Sweet Like This,” and “Doctor Jazz.”

It was King who mentored jazz trumpet legend Louis Armstrong and helped lead him to greatness. He’s also well-known for his use of mutes when playing, as well as for popularizing the wah-wah sound on the horns.

3. Miles Davis

Grammy winner Miles Davis grew up outside of Chicago and started learning the trumpet at age 13.

Years later, he started playing music professionally with jazz greats like Charlie Parker and fellow jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.

Davis studied at the Institute of Musical Art, now known as the Juilliard School. However, he dropped out of school a year later to play full-time.

A few years later, he started working as a band leader and went on to release some of the most iconic jazz albums, including Birth of the Cool, Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, Miles Ahead, and many more.

Davis dealt with heroin addiction but made a remarkable comeback and released multiple albums throughout the rest of his career.

4. Dizzy Gillespie

Along with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie developed the style we know as bebop, a style of jazz from the 1940s.

Many musicians know him for his trumpet, which had a unique angle to the bell. Gillespie also played with “swollen” cheeks, puffing his cheeks out as he performed.

During his career, he worked with some musical greats, including Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. He also composed some famous jazz songs, including “A Night in Tunisia.”

Gillespie played with many swing bands and later formed his own groups. Throughout his career, he recorded multiple albums and received a number of accolades, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

5. Clifford Brown

Despite his short life, Clifford Brown is still one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of the 20th century. He grew up in a musical family and performed in a vocal group with his brothers. But by age 10, Brown fell in love with the trumpet.

He met with Dizzy Gillespie, and Gillespie encouraged Brown to focus on music rather than math, which he had studied earlier.

Brown went on and recorded multiple songs and albums as either a sideman or bandleader. He was also a composer, and songs like “Joy Spring” and “Sandu” have become jazz standards.

Unfortunately, Brown died on his way to a performance in Chicago. He and Richie Powell (pianist Bud Powell’s younger brother,) rode in a car with Powell’s wife, and she allegedly lost control of the vehicle. The crash killed all three of them.

6. Clora Bryant

Next on our list is female trumpet player Clora Bryant, who is probably the most famous woman jazz trumpeter. She was the only woman to perform on trumpet with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Bryant started learning trumpet when one of her older brothers left it at home after joining the military. She kept playing the instrument in college, after which she joined the all-woman jazz band named the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

She soon left school to play full-time. While she didn’t record a ton of music, she did appear on TV multiple times. Bryant was lucky enough to have a supportive father, which helped her in her career.

7. Lee Morgan

Pennsylvanian-born Lee Morgan was a well-known jazz trumpeter who focused on hard bop. After playing the vibraphone and saxophone, Morgan started on the trumpet.

He took a few lessons with Clifford Brown, one of his biggest influences. Later on, Morgan started recording and created a lot of recordings throughout his life.

He started composing and playing as a soloist in the 1950s. By the 1960s, the world saw 20 new recordings from Morgan. He also collaborated with various other musicians.

Sadly, he passed away after his common-law wife shot him and it took the ambulance too long to get there to save him due to heavy snowfall and treacherous roads.

8. Chet Baker

Prince of Cool Chet Baker was a popular trumpeter and singer who grew up around music. His father played guitar professionally, and his mother played piano outside of her work at a factory.

Baker started by singing in a church choir when he was young, and his father gave him a trombone before realizing it was too big, replacing it with a trumpet.

When he joined the army, Baker played in the army band. Later on, he played with musicians like Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, and Gerry Mulligan.

In the 1960s, Baker, unfortunately, went to jail for drug possession. Luckily, he made a comeback and started performing almost exclusively in Europe.

9. Bix Beiderbecke

His parents named him Leon, but he went by his nickname Bix Beiderbecke. Although technically a cornet player, Bix gained fame as a jazz soloist during the 1920s thanks to his lyrical sound and approach.

Bix grew up in a musical household and started playing the piano when he was just two years old. He taught himself how to play the cornet in his teens and soon began performing professionally in local jazz groups.

During his career, he played in several bands, including the Wolverine Orchestra, Jean Goldkette and His Orchestra, and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Bix also had his own group he often played with and created many recordings, like “Royal Garden Blues” and “I Don’t Mind Walking in the Rain.”

Sadly, Bix’s career and life ended too early. In 1931, he passed away in his apartment. Officially, it was announced that he died from lobar pneumonia, but other sources say edema of the brain.

10. Red Allen


Henry James Allen Jr., known best as Red Allen, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He took trumpet lessons at a young age and began professionally playing in the 1920s in jazz bands of King Oliver, Fate Marable, Fats Pichon, and Louis Russell, among others.

In Louis Russell’s band, Allen featured as a soloist, and throughout the ’30s and ’40s, he made several recordings with other jazz artists like Don Redman and the Rhythmakers.

It was until the 1950s that Allen began recording under his own name, like Red Allen, Kid Ory & Jack Teagarden at Newport and Ride, Red, Ride in Hi-Fi. He would also begin to lead his own band and tour with them.

Sadly, Allen’s career was not long-lived. After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1966, he passed away a few months after.

11. Hot Lips Page

If you’re a trumpeter and got nicknamed Hot Lips, then you must be a very good one. This is precisely Oran Thaddeus Page’s story, who was a prolific player of over 200 recordings.

In his teen years, Hot Lips Page started performing in minstrel shows and circuses before moving on to jazz orchestras around the late 1920s. Then at the turn of the decade, he began a solo career and led his own band, touring extensively with his group.

Known for his wide range and broad tone on the trumpet, Page is considered one of the forebears of early R&B. A talented singer as well, he has collaborated and created duets with well-known singers of the time, like Pearl Bailey and Artie Shaw.

12. Roy Eldridge

Multi-instrumentalist Roy Eldridge first began playing the piano, then the drums, before settling on the trumpet after being inspired by saxophonists he had heard. His versatility and skill on the trumpet earned him the nickname Little Jazz.

During his late teens, Eldridge began his professional career in traveling troupes before moving to New York to play in bands there as well as make records of his own.

He was lead trumpeter in Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra during the mid-1930s to the end of the decade and soon became known for his dynamic jazz playing.

Eldridge continued his career until well into the 1970s; however, after suffering a heart attack in 1980, he retired from music.

13. Bunny Berigan

Jazz trumpet virtuoso Roland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan started playing when he was still a teen, joining the Hal Kemp Orchestra in 1929. They toured extensively in Europe, and when the orchestra returned to New York, Bunny started a career as a studio musician.

Sought after by many well-known music artists at the time, Bunny recorded with Glenn Miller, Freddy Martin, and Fred Rich, among many others. On the side, he would join bands for performances, and he eventually created his own in the late 1930s.

In April 1942, Berigan’s health started to decline, and he was diagnosed with cirrhosis. Despite being advised to stop drinking alcohol and playing, the trumpeter continued. A month later, a massive hemorrhage caused his demise. He was only 33.

14. Red Nichols

We have next another cornetist joining the list. Ernest Loring Nichols—nicknamed Red—was a prodigy when it came to the horn. Before he was 12, he was already playing in his father’s band.

In the 1920s, Nichols began recording with his own group called Red Nichols and His Five Pennies. Over the next few decades, his band had many notable musicians in the roster, including (but not limited to) Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, and Benny Goodman. The Five Pennies’ version of “Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider” is considered one of their best.

An avid composer, Nichols also wrote several original works like “Nervous Charlie Stomp” and “Blues at Midnight.” His over four-decade career landed him a spot in the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1986.

15. Harry James

Georgian-native Harry James was known for his incredible tone on the trumpet and possessed masterful technique. He was also known primarily as the bandleader for the prominent jazz band Harry James and His Music Makers (sometimes called His Orchestra).

The band featured Frank Sinatra as a vocalist, and the singer worked closely with James for seven months. This band was active from 1930 through 1983, only taking a short break in 1947.

He later worked with Doris Day on a soundtrack for the movie Young Man with a Horn. Throughout his career, James took inspiration from Louis Armstrong before a brief switch to focusing on pop, though he went back to jazz later on.

16. Cat Anderson

Though known as one of Duke Ellington’s trumpeters in his orchestra, Cat Anderson was more than that. His skill in playing the altissimo register and use of the plunger mute in his performances gained him popularity.

Anderson played for Ellington’s orchestra on and off from 1944 to 1971. In between, he would focus on recording with others and his own big band.

Also a composer, Anderson wrote and co-wrote many well-known jazz pieces, like “Bluejean Beguine” and “El Gato” with Duke Ellington. The 1959 album Cat on a Hot Tin Horn contains his original work and arrangements.

17. Ray Nance

Like Cat Anderson, Ray Nance played in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, replacing Cootie Williams after he joined up with another big band.

Nance gained popularity with his trumpet solo of “Take the ‘A’ Train” shortly after he joined the orchestra. This would eventually become Ellington’s theme and be copied by various trumpeters over the years, including Williams.

After staying with Ellington’s orchestra for over 20 years, Nance began touring the Middle East and Europe. He also recorded with other well-known musicians and singers of the time, like Rosemary Clooney, Chico Hamilton, and many more.

18. Cootie Williams

In early jazz times, apparently many musicians had nicknames, and Charles Melvin Williams’ was Cootie, in reference to what he said to describe the sound he heard in a concert when he was just a child.

And like the other two before him on this list, Duke Ellington’s Orchestra helped make Williams popular. During his time with the orchestra, he had numerous solo performances, like in Harlem Air Shaft” and “Echoes of Harlem.”

In 1940, Williams caused quite the stir when he left Ellington’s band to join Benny Goodman’s orchestra before shortly creating his own big band. However, a little over 20 years later, he returned to Ellington’s orchestra until Ellington passed away in 1974.

Williams continued playing until his passing in 1985. Six years after, he was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

19. Fats Navarro

A pioneer of bebop, Theodore “Fats” Navarro started playing the trumpet when he was in his teens. After high school, he began touring in bands, gaining the experience he needed to succeed.

After touring, he stayed in New York where he played with many renown musicians like Andy Parker and played in big bands of Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton, among many others.

His skillful trumpeting also landed him record session jobs with the likes of Kenny Clarke, Coleman Hawkins, and Bud Powell.

In the late 1940s, Navarro’s health began to decline. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and in the mid-1950, he passed away. The trumpeter was only 26.

20. Freddie Hubbard

American jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader Freddie Hubbard was one of the most influential trumpet players in both the hard bop and post-bop sub genres of jazz.

Born in Indiana in 1938, he grew up playing the trumpet and the mellophone in high school. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that he began performing with John Coltrane and his career began to take off.

In the 1970s, Hubbard recorded multiple albums. He started a group later on, and they had the chance to play in Europe and the United States. Hubbard was on plenty of recordings as a bandleader or a sideman during his career.

The National Endowment for the Arts gave Hubbard the NEA Jazz Masters Award, a high honor for jazz musicians, in 2006.

21. Clark Terry

Active from the 1940s to the 2010s, Clark Terry had a long career and achieved a lot in that time. He performed on over 900 recordings, and he played with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, and Billie Holiday.

Terry also wrote over 200 jazz compositions, and along the way, he became an expert in the system of circular breathing for brass and woodwind players.

Additionally, Terry was a Jazz Ambassador who participated in African and Middle Eastern tours. He performed throughout the world, drawing in students from all over.

For his amazing works, Terry received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010 and inductions into both the Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz and Down Beat Jazz Halls of Fame.

22. Wynton Marsalis


From New Orleans, Louisiana, Wynton Marsalis showed his love and skill for music early on. He began performing at age 14 and started his own band when he was 20.

Marsalis has worked to help people remember jazz musicians from earlier generations. Because of him, record companies have reissued many old jazz catalogs.

Also a composer, Marsalis has composed and performed all types of jazz music. He’s also a performer and of classical music. This makes him an excellent role model for other crossover trumpet players.

Marsalis is currently the only musician to ever earn a Grammy for both classical and jazz music (1983 and 1984). He is also the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Music for his work on Blood on the Fields.

23. Doc Severinsen

Anybody who’s watched The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson would probably be familiar with the name Doc Severinsen. The Oregon native led the NBC Orchestra for the show for over two decades.

Severinsen started leading the NBC Orchestra in 1967 after being their first-chair trumpeter for five years. It was with the orchestra and the show that he became one of America’s best-known bandleaders, retiring from the orchestra only after Johnny Carson retired in 1992.

Aside from his work with NBC Orchestra, Severinsen has recorded albums, like The Tonight Show Band with Doc Severinsen, and performed in other TV shows. He has also conducted orchestras before retiring in 2022.

24. Roy Hargrove

Renown jazz trumpeters do not have be from the 1920s or ’30s. Inspired by the names mentioned above, many trumpeters in the recent decades have emerged. Texan musician Roy Hargrove was one of them.

Born in 1969, Hargrove studied music as a child and in college. He released his debut album, Diamond in the Rough, to great success in 1990. Five years later, he grouped his own music group called Roy Hargrove Big Band. With this band, Hargrove would go on to win two Grammys.

During the last decades of his life, Hargrove had been struggling with kidney failure and was on dialysis. In 2018, however, he passed away from complications of the disease. He was only 49.

25. Arturo Sandoval

Cuban-American jazz trumpet player Arturo Sandoval started by playing classical trumpet. His love for jazz soon took over, especially after meeting Dizzy Gillespie.

He has since been able to record with other musicians and singers, including jazz pianist Dave Grusin, traditional pop singer Tony Bennett, singer-songwriter Josh Groban, and many more.

Sandoval can play a lot of different genres and has had a successful career because of that. The trumpet player has won 10 Grammy Awards as well as an Emmy.

He has even composed some music, including a classical concerto for the trumpet. In 2013, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

26. Andrea Motis

Moving to contemporary trumpeters, we have Andrea Motis, a young woman from Spain. This fantastic jazz trumpet player started playing the trumpet when she was just seven years old.

A few years later, she started learning jazz, and she began playing with the bassist Joan Chamorro as a teenager.

Now Motis has already played on multiple albums and has recently made her solo debut, Emotional Dance, in 2017, which features some of her original composition.

She has also worked with various musicians, including tenor sax player Joel Frahm. As a young jazz trumpeter, it will be exciting to see where Motis’s career will lead in the future.

27. Ingrid Jensen

Jazz trumpet player Ingrid Jensen was born in North Vancouver and later studied at Berklee College of Music after receiving a scholarship there. After graduating, she briefly taught in Europe but returned to North America in 1994 to perform in multiple jazz orchestras.

Jensen has since started a quintet, quartet, and trio, and she also plays as a soloist. Her passion for music education lives on, and she teaches at Purchase College. She also teaches master classes and at various jazz festivals around the world.

Her sister Christine is a saxophonist, and the two have collaborated on multiple occasions. Other music artists Jensen has worked with are Maria Schneider, Billy Hart, Clark Terry, and the soul singer Corrine Bailey Rae, among many others.

28. Nicholas Payton

Born in 1973 in New Orleans, we have Nicholas Payton, son of jazz bassist Walter Payton. A prodigy, Payton was already tooting a trumpet by the time he was four. When he was nine, he was playing in the band his father was in.

His professional career began in 1990 after signing with Verve Records. He then released his debut album, From This Moment, five years later. His performance in the album Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton earned him his first Grammy for Best Instrumental Solo in 1997.

Payton is quite active in his career. He’s founded a jazz ensemble called the SFJAZZ Collective, was in the septet Blue Note 7, released more than 20 recordings, led concert performances, and even has his own record label, BMF Records.

29. Dave Douglas

New York native Dave Douglas was born in 1963. The start of his trumpeting journey was in high school and has continued to this day.

After graduating with a degree in music in mid 1980s, Douglas began playing in several ensembles and toured with them. He would continue performing as a side musician throughout the ’90s, and at this time, too, he would start releasing albums of original work and collaborations.

Since then, Douglas has released over 50 recordings, and as a composer, published over 500 music pieces. His work has earned him many awards, including a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, and Grammy nominations.

30. Tom Harrell


Born in Illinois in 1946, Tom Harrell started playing the trumpet when he was eight. He studied music composition in college and began touring with Stan Kenton’s orchestra soon after.

Harrell has led his own bands since 1989, one called Tom Harrell Quintet and the other is Tom Harrell Chamber Ensemble. With the quintet, he released five albums. The fifth album, aptly named Number Five, won a SESAC Jazz Award

The year 2018 was great for the trumpeter. That year, Jazz Journalists Association named him Trumpeter of the Year. Harrell has also worked with many notable artists, like Carlos Santana, Ron Carter, and Arturo O’Farrill.

Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest Jazz Trumpeters

As you have read, there have been many great jazz trumpet players over the years. Whether you’re a trumpet player or love listening to jazz, you can learn from the greats of years past and follow current jazz musicians.

Keep all the trumpeters on this list in mind when looking for jazz recordings. You’re sure to find one you’ll love listening to, and if you’re a trumpet player, who knows? Maybe their works can help you improve your art.

Photo of author

Peter Yarde Martin is a freelance composer, musician and educator based in London. He studied music at Cambridge University and now works with many top professional ensembles and soloists in the UK and abroad.