15 Of The Most Famous Trumpet Players You Should Know

Last updated

The trumpet is one of the oldest instruments in music dating back thousands of years, it has come a long way since people first started playing animal horns. From its humble beginnings as an instrument for military use, it now has many different roles in society, including classical orchestral playing and jazz improvisation, it can be found all over the world today in many different cultures.

In this post, we’re going to be looking at 15 famous trumpet players from classical, jazz, and world music so if you are interested in learning more about this amazing instrument and the virtuosos that play it read on.

1. Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)

Louis Armstrong

One of the most dynamic jazzmen of all time, Armstrong was as famous as an entertainer as a trumpet player.

He often sang the melody in many of his songs, and his unmistakable voice made him a household name in pop music and jazz. 

Armstrong had several smashes in his career, including “What a Wonderful World” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

He was also one of the foremost ambassadors of jazz and popular song, and he toured worldwide into his 60s, often with the support of the U.S. State Department.

2. Miles Davis (1926-1991)

Miles Davis

Miles Davis is one of the biggest musical icons in jazz, and he was a tireless innovator throughout his career.

Davis rose to prominence in the late 40s, cutting his teeth in Manhattan’s jazz clubs, where he frequently played alongside the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker. 

Shortly after, Davis went on to form the Miles Davis Nonet, which would help influence the shape of jazz to come in the late 50s and 60s.

Before pioneering cool jazz in the late 50s, Miles reunited with Charlie Parker, where the two pioneered the hard bop sound.

These records, including Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, are some of the best examples of jazz trumpet of all time. 

3. Alison Balsom (1978-)

Alison Balsom is arguably the most innovative and virtuous classical trumpet player of the 21st-century, and she has amassed an enormous discography in a short time.

She began playing at age seven and, within a year, was already thriving in brass bands. 

In her early 30s, Balsom ascended to the position of principal trumpet in the London Chamber Orchestra.

She continues to put out albums at a prolific pace, and her latest, Magic Trumpet, is a masterclass in classical trumpet. 

4. Harry James (1916-1983)

Harry James

One of the godfathers of modern jazz trumpetists, Harry James, was a trumpeter and big band leader who was beloved for his incredible tone and technical prowess.

James has been credited by many legendary jazz trumpet players as a significant influence. 

Before forming his own band, James played with Benny Goodman’s orchestra, leaving to start his group shortly after that.

As a bandleader, Harry James helped launch Frank Sinatra and drummer Buddy Rich to stardom. 

James’ orchestra recorded the smash-hit “You Made Me Love You,” which spent several weeks on the Billboard Top 10, and they appeared in several feature films, including “Two Girls and a Sailor.”

James passed away in 1983, but the Harry James orchestra continues to play today, under the direction of Fred Radke. 

5. Wynton Marsalis (1961-)

Wynton Marsalis

The most famous trumpeter of the modern age, Wynton Marsalis, has spent his career amassing virtually every award a musician can earn, including countless Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize. 

Marsalis spent his early years traveling with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and Herbie Hancock before forming several successful quintets.

In 1987, he would launch the Classical Jazz Summer Series at Lincoln Center, which would become wildly popular.

Many music critics and players credit Marsalis’ work with helping to usher jazz into the 21st-century.

6. Chet Baker (1929-1988)

Chet Baker

Chet Baker was a virtuous trumpeter known as “The Prince of Cool.”

The Nickname was a nod to his groundbreaking work in the cool jazz genre, pioneered by Miles Davis.

Baker got his start in the early 50s with Vido Musso and Stan Getz and later caught the ear of Charlie Parker, who took a young Baker under his wing.

Baker spent most of the later 50s in various jazz groups, including the Gerry Mulligan Quartet.

Their version of “My Funny Valentine” became a smash hit associated with Baker throughout his career.

Baker was also well known for his vocal performances, most notably “Chet Baker Sings, It Could Happen to You.” 

After a bout with drug addiction, Baker had a prolific stretch as a recording artist, and his cool jazz stylings and soft, breathy tone would inspire generations of trumpet players after him. 

7. Maurice Andre (1933-2012)

Maurice Andre was a French trumpeter who rose to prominence for his work on the piccolo trumpet.

The piccolo trumpet is a lesser-known instrument that lends itself particularly well to classical and baroque music, which is where Andre made his living. 

Andre would record prolifically from the late 50s through the time of his death, and his recordings are a masterclass in classical trumpet. 

8. Arturo Sandoval (1949-)

Arturo Sandoval by ataelw (CC BY 2.0)

Arturo Sandoval is a Cuban trumpet player who rose to international prominence on the back of his incredible Latin jazz performances.

The young Sandoval cut his chops playing with street musicians in Cuba before establishing the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna.

In the early 80s, he set out with his own band, touring worldwide. 

While touring, Sandoval met Dizzie Gillespie, who became a close friend and mentor.

With Gillespie’s help, Sandoval defected from Cuba, and his notoriety grew immensely.

He has performed at both the White House and Super Bowl and has several Grammys and an Emmy to his credit. 

9. Tine Thing Helseth (1987-)

Tine Thing Helseth is a Norwegian trumpet player known for her classical trumpet playing.

At age seven, she began playing trumpet and studied extensively at Barratt Due Institute of Music and the Norwegian Academy of Music. 

Helseth’s discography includes several impressive works for classical trumpet, and she also leads the all-female brass ensemble, tenThing. 

10. Chris Botti (1962-)

Chris Botti is one of the most famous trumpet players of the 21st-century, and his style seamlessly fuses jazz and pop.

Botti left college in his senior year for touring engagements with Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich before relocating to New York City to further refine his playing. 

After catching the ear of Paul Simon, Botti spent the better part of a decade touring and recording with Paul, which made him an in-demand studio musician.

Chris has credits with Aretha Franklin, Natalie Merchant, Roger Daltrey, and many more. 

Botti continues to record today, and his studio albums are a masterclass in jazz and pop fusion. 

11. Andrea Motis (1995-)

Andrea Motis is a young trumpet player known globally for her incredible talent at such a young age.

At age seven, Motis enrolled in the Municipal School of Music of Sant Andreu, becoming the school’s first chair.

She released her first studio album by age fifteen, a compilation of jazz standards that showcase her virtuosity. 

Motis continues to hone her craft today as a respected swing, bossa nova, and Latin jazz trumpet player.

She also sings and plays the alto and soprano saxophone. 

12. Hugh Masekela (1939-2018)

Hugh Masekela by Jacob Crawfurd  (CC BY 2.0)

Known as the “Father of African Jazz,” Hugh Masekela was a legendary trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet player, and vocalist.

After seeing the film “Young Man with a Horn,” Masekela was inspired to play the trumpet.

He went on to master the instrument with instruction from Uncle Sauda, the leader of the Johannesburg Municipal Brass Band. 

Masekela’s original music reflects the pain and anguish of the apartheid era, and he was a fluent writer of protest songs.

After leaving South Africa in the early 60s, Masekela studied in London and toured extensively, recording several hit songs, including the multi-platinum “Graising in the Grass.

13. Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931)

Bix Beiderbecke

Bix Beiderbecke was a legendary cornetist who went on to inspire scores of trumpet players after him with his improvisational playing.

Bix was a musical prodigy from an incredibly young age, first playing piano as a two or three-year-old.

He added the cornet to his repertoire in his teen years, learning jazz off records like “Skeleton Jangle” by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. 

After cutting his teeth sitting in with touring bands in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa, Beiderbecke played extensively with the hottest dance bands of the time.

You’ll hear his lead cornet in the Wolverine Orchestra, Jean Goldkette and his Orchestra, The Paul Whiteman Orchestra, and others. 

Sadly, Beiderbecke died long before his time, passing away in his Queens, New York apartment in 1931.

14. Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993)

Dizzy Gillespie

Known for his unusual trumpet embouchure, John “Dizzy” Gillespie is a larger-than-life musician who is perhaps the most influential figure in jazz history.

His virtuous style has been a significant influence on players from Fats Navarro and Miles Davis to Arturo Sandoval and Chuck Mangione. 

Dizzy got his start as a professional at age 18, playing with orchestras led by Frank Fairfax, Teddy Hill, and Edgar Hayes, and Cab Calloway.

After honing his chops, Gillespie, along with jazz giants like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, ushered in the bebop era of jazz with a groundbreaking new style that was far different from the swing music that proceeds it. 

For fans of jazz and especially trumpet players, Gillespie’s small group work with quartets and quintets is required listening.

15. Maynard Ferguson (1928-2006)

Maynard Ferguson by Marek Noniewicz (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By age 13, it was clear that the Canadian trumpet player Maynard Ferguson would accomplish incredible feats in jazz.

He began playing professionally as a teenager and led his older brother’s dance band, which played extensively throughout the Montreal area.

At age 20, he began playing with the swing bands of the day in the United States. 

Maynard is well known for his work with Stan Kenton’s orchestra.

He would later go on to lead wildly successful big bands of his own.

Ferguson has an incredibly extensive list of recording film and production credits to his name, and he doubled on several other brass instruments and piano.

Summing up our list Greatest Trumpet Players

We hope that our list of famous trumpet players has helped you to broaden your knowledge and understanding of the instrument.

We’re sure you already knew the likes of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie but we hope you found out about some new trumpet players that aren’t quite as well known.

These amazing musicians have contributed greatly to their respective genres and deserve the recognition that they get on stage and off.

We’ll be adding to this list shortly so let us know who we missed off and we’ll get on it.

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.