Trumpet History through
Great Trumpet Players including Brief Bios and Opinions as
to their Best Work

Trumpet history begins with a long straight tubular instrument The trumpet worked by amplifying the sound of lips pressed together that are buzzing as air is forced between them. Different sources claim the first trumpet originated in Egypt or in China. Knowledge of the instrument goes back at least 4000 years. This large instrument, often 6 feet long or more, was frequently used for ceremonial purposes. These early trumpets played notes akin to a modern bugle. Only overtones could be blown and a chromatic scale could not be played.

In medieval times the tube was folded to make the instrument smaller. By the 16th or 17th century the trumpet had acquired a shape similar to today's horn. In the early 1800s valves were invented and trumpet history changed dramatically. The valves effectively changed the length of the tubing and used in different combinations made playing the chromatic scale [all notes in the western scale] possible. Much more music began to be written for the trumpet.

The cornet had tubes which were more conical in shape and a mellower sound but the same range and technique of the later developed modern trumpet. In the early days of jazz history, ensembles of musicians played in street marches and for social occasions in New Orleans. The range of the cornet at the top of the brass instruments and its volume and carrying ability made it a natural lead instrument which usually played the melody of the songs.

Great Jazz Trumpet Players

Buddy Bolden is the first great musician in jazz history. He adapted the ragtime music being played by New Orleans marching bands. He infused that music with blues and loosened the beat even more than ragtime had. Thus began jazz - the combination of African and European music. Many say jazz began with Buddy Bolden


Joe "King" Oliver was influenced greatly by Buddy Bolden. Following Bolden's disappearance from the New Orleans music scene, King Oliver became the leading bandleader in New Orleans and then the top leader in Chicago. His Creole Jazz Band was the best of its time. He was also the biggest early influence on Louis Armstrong and brought Armstrong from New Orleans to Chicago. Without King Oliver trumpet history would differ and jazz might not be what it became.

The greatest jazz trumpet player of all time and the most influential figure in the history of jazz is Louis Armstrong. Born at the turn of the century in New Orleans and raised in the roughest parts of the city, he grew to be a towering figure in jazz. His trumpet virtuosity with his robust tone, astounding high range, and fluid legato style would of itself make him a legend. But he was so much more than that.

Before Armstrong, New Orleans jazz was group improvisation upon a song with occasional 1 or 2 bar individual bits. The history of Louis Armstrong to 1924 ended with the apex of the classic New Orleans style of jazz.

At the same time that he was helping create the finest New Orleans jazz, his own musical growth was sewing the seeds of the end of that style's predominance. He became the first and greatest virtuoso in jazz trumpet history. Louis Armstrong's remarkable tone, technique and improvising and his overpowering musicianship led to his soloing for a complete stanza and chorus or more in a song. He infused more blues into the music and loosened his solos from the ground beat, moving the rhythms ahead and behind that beat. Jazz was changed from group improvisation to solo improvisation supported by ensemble backing. And with Louis Armstrong after 1924 the music came to swing more and more.

He also had a profound influence on jazz singing which will be considered in the Vocal section of the site. Louis Armstrong was a great jazz trumpet player. His innovations were profoundly important in the development of jazz.

Bix Beiderbacks [1903-1931] came from a German-American family in Iowa along the Mississippi River. He grew up in a home full of classical European music. He became fascinated by New Orleans jazz and taught himself trumpet. Bix listened to jazz on the Mississippi riverboats and later moved to Chicago where he listened to and sat in with King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and many other greats. He developed a beautiful, pure tone and an improvising style that was beautiful without being sasherine or corny. Nether Bix nor anyone else influenced early jazz trumpet history like Satchmo did. But he developed a ballad style that was not surgary nor was it blues based. Bix Beiderbecke influenced many others with his lyrical style and melody based improvisations.

Roy Eldridge [1911-1989] "Little Jazz" was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He was an early great in trumpet history who was not directly influenced by Louis Armstrong and the other New Orleans pioneers while a young trumpeter. His early influences were Red Nichols, Jabbo Smith and Bix Beiderbecke on trumpet and more importantly Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter on saxophone. He played extremely fast scale-like runs in a fluid style closer to the saxes of the time than to the leading trumpeters. He also extended the playing range of the trumpet upward. His tone was not the clear bell like tone of Beiderbecke nor the richly beautiful, full tone of Armstrong. He tone was brassier - it was thinner but still strong and he often cracked the tone. Roy Eldridge was a virtuoso who became the leading jazz swing trumpeter of the late 1930s and whose playing greatly influenced Dizzy Gillespie and the beginning of be-bop.

Dizzy Gillespie [1917-1993]was born in rural South Carolina and moved to Philadelphia and then to New York as a young man. His idol as a young player was Roy Eldridge. He learned to play like Roy Eldridge and then surpassed him. Dizzy was perhaps the greatest virtuoso on trumpet in all of jazz trumpet history. He, Charlie Parker and others developed a new style of jazz which came to be called bebop. He also introduced Afro-Cuban polyrhythms into big band jazz. A true giant in jazz history - Dizzy Gillespie had an effect on everything in jazz that came after him.

Theodore "Fats" Navarro (1923-1950) was born in Key West, Florida. He played and learned in a couple of midwest territory bands before coming to New York in 1945. He replaced Dizzy Gillespie in the Billy Eckstine big band in New York and after a couple of years left to play in small combos. A combination of a weak constitution, heroin addiction and tuberculosis led to his early demise and this was a tragic loss for jazz. Fats was one of the first bop trumpeters along with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. He played with a fat sweet tone and every note sounded intentional. Fats Navarro greatly influenced Clifford Brown and his style was widely spread through the influence of Brownie.

Clifford Brown [1930-1956] was born into a musical. middle class home in Delaware. He was just a few years younger than Fats Navarro and patterned his playing after Fats. His playing surpassed that of his idol and he co-led the pre-eminent hard bop combo with drummer, Max Roach. His beautiful flowing melodies where every note has a reason and his gorgeous fat tone made him a virtuoso at a very young age. Clean living Clifford Brown tragically died at age 25 in an automobile accident. Every modern trumpeter is influenced by him.


Who is your favorite great trumpet player?


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