Friday, September 5, 2014

Top 5 Jazz Trumpeters of All Time

The music of five jazz trumpet masters (at the least) should be present in the listening library of anyone who appreciates good music!  Their jazz music is an auditory necessity for all aspiring jazz musicians, especially pianists.   One can learn multitudes by understanding everything about these musicians -- from their phrasing, melodies, and rhythm, to their musical "story-telling" techniques and their lifestyles.  The following list is of my top 5 favorite jazz trumpet players of all time.

Author's Note: Read more on the value of pianists listening to trumpeters here, and stay tuned for an article on my favorite jazz pianists coming soon!

-Austin Kimble

5. Woody Shaw

Listen to Woody Shaw's composition "The Moontrane" while you read!

Photo of Woody Shaw (1979) by Brian McMillen
Woody Shaw (1944-1989) serves as a beautiful contrast to the remaining trumpet players on this top 5 list, largely due to being known for his "quartal" playing techniques (defined as music based on the use of fourths.)  He is one of the most underrated jazz musicians of all time. His compositions and improvised solos sound much different than most of the jazz music that came prior to him, due to most of the previous generation's chords and improvisational techniques being composed based on "tertian" harmony, or sounds based mainly on thirds.  McCoy Tyner (1938- ) is the quintessential jazz pianist example of a quartal player; he and Woody Shaw are both true pioneers of quartal jazz harmony, making their largest strides in the 1960's.  
Diagram of quartal chords

Favorite albums as leader include:

Last of the Line [Cassandranite (1965) & Love Dance (1975) 2-CD reissue]
The Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw Sessions [Double Take (1985) & Eternal Triangle (1988) 2-CD reissue]
Dark Journey (includes recordings from 1965, 1970's, and 1980's)
Imagination (1987)

Favorite albums as sideman include:

Tones for Joan's Bones (1966) by pianist Chick Corea
The Jody Grind (1966) by pianist Horace Silver
Expansions (1968) by pianist McCoy Tyner
Zawinul (1970) by keyboardist Joe Zawinul

4. Clifford Brown

Listen to Clifford Brown's composition "Daahoud"

Photo of Clifford Brown from a gig with Art Blakey Quintet
 at Birdland (1954) by Francis Wolff
Clifford Brown (1930-1956) was a major pioneer of the hard-bop idiom, or sub-genre, of jazz.  He learned much of his characteristic style as a result of "sitting in" to play with Dizzy Gillespie (who deserves a spot on this top 5 list as much as anyone) as well as Fats Navarro and Charlie Parker.  He played faster, more flawlessly, and more beautifully than most other musicians of the time. It was this extraordinary virtuosity that had a significant influence on no less than two of the other trumpeters on this list: Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard.  It was a shame that he was killed at age 25 in a car accident, and thus we can only listen to recordings of his from the 1950's.  Today, his compositions, "Daahoud" and "Joy Spring" have become jazz standards.

Favorite albums as leader include:

Study in Brown (1955)
Clifford Brown & Max Roach (1954)
Clifford Brown: Jazz Immortal (1954)

Favorite albums as sideman include:

A Night at Birdland Vol. 1 & 2 (1954) by Art Blakey [with Horace Silver on piano]
*this album was a 2001 re-release of the original Volumes 1, 2, & 3, combined onto only 2 CDs.

3.  Lee Morgan

Listen to Lee Morgan's composition "Ceora" (featuring a beautiful piano intro.)

Photo of Lee Morgan during The Rumproller session
 at Englewood Cliffs, NJ (1965) by Francis Wolff
Edward Lee Morgan (1938-1972) had more soul than any other jazz trumpeter of his era.  Freddie Hubbard once stated that he thought Lee Morgan had a certain "natural soul" whereas he himself had to work really hard at it.  In additional to having natural soul and achieving much success as a hard bop player, his lyricism combined with the rhythmic intent from his tune "The Sidewinder" became a commercial success and a stylistic formula to emulate: the "boogaloo" style.  Like Clifford Brown, he too played with bandleader Art Blakey, later replaced by Freddie Hubbard.  Lee Morgan is known by many for playing with John Coltrane as a sideman on the famous album Blue Train.

Favorite albums as leader include:

Cornbread (1965)
The Sidewinder (1963)
Search for the New Land (1964)
Lee-Way (1960)
Live in Baltimore 1968 (Lee Morgan - Clifford Jordan Quintet)

Favorite albums as sideman include:

Blue Train (1957) by John Coltrane [with Kenny Drew on piano]
A Day with Art Blakey - 1961 - Vol. 1 (1961) by Art Blakey (with Bobby Timmons on piano)
Kelly Great (1959) by pianist Wynton Kelly

1. / 2.  Freddie Hubbard

Listen to Freddie Hubbard's composition "Red Clay"

Photo of Freddie Hubbard (2008)
Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008) shares the top spot on my list with Miles Davis.  No one played the trumpet harder, faster, or with better chops in all of jazz history than Freddie. One cannot place either trumpet master higher than the other on this list, for they are each the best in different ways.  Freddie Hubbard had an incredible amount of soul, a very thick library of music, and was at the absolute forefront of hard bop for longer than anyone else.  He honed his style and eventually was regarded as having created "soul jazz."  I composed a song in memory of Freddie Hubbard immediately following his passing in 2008, recorded it, and released live-action music video of it in his honor (viewable via YouTube.)  I titled my composition, "Dear Freddie," following the same naming convention Freddie Hubbard used for his composition, "Dear John," which he based on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps."

Favorite albums as leader include:

Red Clay (1970)
Breaking Point (1964)
Open Sesame (1960)
Goin' Up (1960)
Fastball: "Live" at the Left Bank (2001 release of 1967 concert)
Sky Dive (1973)
The Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw Sessions [Double Take (1985) & Eternal Triangle (1988) 2-CD reissue]
The Body & the Soul (1963)
Above & Beyond (1982)

Favorite albums as sideman include:

Free for All (1964) by Art Blakey [with Cedar Walton on piano]
Takin' Off (1962) by pianist Herbie Hancock
Empyrean Isles (1964) by pianist Herbie Hancock
Maiden Voyage (1965) by pianist Herbie Hancock
Ugetsu (1963) by Art Blakey [with Cedar Walton on piano]
Caravan (1963) by Art Blakey [with Cedar Walton on piano]
The Quintet (1977) by V.S.O.P [with Herbie Hancock on piano]
Interplay (1962) by pianist Bill Evans
Together (1978) by pianist McCoy Tyner
The Trumpet Summit Meets the Oscar Peterson Big 4 (1980) by pianist Oscar Peterson
Undercurrent (1960) by pianist Kenny Drew

1. / 2.  Miles Davis

Listen to "Seven Steps to Heaven,"
composed by Miles Davis and pianist Victor Feldman

Photo of Miles Davis
Miles Dewey Davis III (1926-1991) shares the top spot on my list with Freddie Hubbard.  Similar to comparing the best apple on Earth to the best orange on Earth to decide the best fruit, I call both Miles and Freddie the best jazz trumpeters, yet they are totally different players.  Miles Davis is the father of not one, but four, jazz idioms: cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion.  I wrote an extensive article on that developmental process, which you may read here at Jazz Piano Universe.  Miles is such an important figure in American music that he stands as the only member of this list to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  He recorded the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue, which sold over 4 million copies in the United States and is still topping the sales charts today.  He has recorded with nearly all of my favorite jazz pianists.  Miles Davis is as prolific as Freddie Hubbard, albeit better-known worldwide.  It was extremely difficult to pick a track to listen to -- and to pick under 100 albums to recommend -- so, please enjoy!

Favorite albums as leader include:

'58 Sessions (Featuring "Stella by Starlight") [1958]
Miles & Coltrane (1958)
Kind of Blue (1959)
Steamin' (1961)
Relaxin' (1958)
Cookin' (1957)
Birth of the Cool (1957)
Milestones (1958)
Someday My Prince Will Come (1961)
At Carnegie Hall (1961)
Seven Steps to Heaven (1963)
The Complete Concert 1964: My Funny Valentine + Four and More (1992 reissue of 1964 concert)
Bitches Brew (1970
Miles Smiles (1967)
On the Corner (1972)
Miles Ahead (1957)
Live Around the World (1996 release of live shows recorded 1988-90)
Tutu (1986)
Amandla (1989)
Aura (1989)

Favorite compilations include:

The Best of Miles Davis: The Capitol / Blue Note Years (1992)
The Essential Miles Davis (2001)
The Complete Columbia Recordings of Miles Davis with John Coltrane (1999)
Miles Davis' Greatest Hits (1969)


Austin Kimble is a professional jazz pianist, music director, educator, and composer based in Austin, Texas.

Inquiries?  Email Austin Kimble at or Tweet @JazzAustin

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