Jazz Trumpet, Part 1

AAJ Staff BY

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Jazz trumpet is practically an art form unto itself, with a richness in terms of its greatest soloists that is hard to match. Some have even argued for it being the "classiest," most sophisticated solo instrument in jazz.

Moreover, it seems that in every period of jazz history, dominant voices on trumpet have leapt to the fore and made critical contributions to developing styles. Consider swing without Roy Eldridge, bebop without Diz, hard-bop without Lee Morgan, post-bop without Woody Shaw, and you get the idea. There is something about the trumpet and those who elect to play it (usually brash, self-confident types) that almost assures that it will make its presence known at any point in jazz history.

Checking out jazz trumpet, then, is an excellent way to check out the whole development of jazz until now. Jazz history is closely paralleled in the development of jazz trumpet. From the concise but inventive phrasing of Louis Armstrong, to the sweet bluesiness of a Roy Eldridge onward to the brash modernism of a Freddie Hubbard, the history of jazz can safely be found in the history of jazz trumpet.

Because the trumpet tradition in jazz is so rich, there are many trumpeters other than those represented here who are worth digging into. These however, are some of the most seminally important figures in that tradition, and so this is a good starting point for either the new listener or the experienced one who has yet to survey the full extent of jazz trumpet.

Louis Armstrong
Plays W.C. Handy

Not only is this is a classic record by a truly classic jazz musician, it is one of the better records for hearing Armstrong's true talent as an improviser. He squeezes every last bit of drama out of the music with his solos, and is rightfully considered to be the father of Jazz trumpet.
Roy Eldridge Four
Montreux 1977

Roy "Little Jazz" Eldridge's playing was the benchmark for excellence in the Swing style of Jazz popularized by Duke Ellington. Eldridge played in many of Duke's bands, and this record offers a chance to hear Eldridge in the twilight of his career, his style very much still intact. With Oscar Peterson and company and arguably his finest record ever.
Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron
The Complete Blue Note and Capitol Recordings

Fats Navarro is the name in Jazz trumpet that more people really ought to know. For those unacquainted with his work, there's no better place to start than these legendary sessions with Tadd Dameron. He blows like there is no tomorrow.
Dizzy Gillespie
An Electrifying Evening with the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet

Dizzy, while easily identifiable as one of the true ambassadors of Jazz in its history, often gets overlooked as an important musician. This live performance displays Diz at his electrifying greatest, taking a VERY extensive solo on "A Night in Tunisia." There is also an insightful interview with Diz at the end of this recording.
Clifford Brown
The Beginning and The End

"Brownie," as he was affectionately called, was one of the true giants of Jazz trumpet -in spite of the fact that his flame was put out far too early. Here he is heard in concert with two different ensembles, the latter concert being the show he did right before his fatal car crash on the way home. Like a fairy tale, his best playing of all.
Miles Davis
Miles Ahead

Here we get a chance to hear one of the most distinctive trumpeters in Jazz history playing as lead soloist before a big band orchestra masterfully arranged by Gil Evans. Davis consistently asserts both the effectiveness of his less-is-more stylism and moreover the trumpet as an ideal solo instrument. In relief, set against a large orchestra, Miles' deceptively subdued trumpet manages to shine again and again. Brilliant.
Lee Morgan

Lee Morgan lends his sweet sound to a variety of tunes, including the title tune. This is a more underrated Morgan record and represents him well because his style is shown in greater depth without competing soloists. A nice date full of sassy but nonetheless thoughtful playing by a true original of Jazz trumpet.
Howard McGhee
Maggie's Back in Town

One of the unheralded greats of Jazz trumpet, McGhee had a dynamic style that was based deeply in precedents set by Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown. For those not hip to Mr. McGhee, check this, arguably his best inprint record -plus, you get Phineas Newborn for the price of admission.
Booker Little
Out Front

Booker Little, in addition to being a progressive and unique composer, had a pristine tone and a melancholy, affecting sound that has quietly but deeply effected Jazz trumpeters from his (brief) era onward. Trumpeters as diverse as Russell Gunn, Dave Douglas, and Ron Miles claim this shooting star (died at age 23) as a major influence.
Freddie Hubbard
Above And Beyond

No jazz trumpet list would be complete without a mention of Freddie Hubbard, whose style has been one of the major shaping forces on young trumpeters today. Itself based in the styles of Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, Hubbard's is at once boppish and fully modernistic. This live date is indeed "Above and Beyond" -all expectations of a trumpet player's inventiveness and sheer chops.
Woody Shaw
Live: Volume One

We can't forget about Woody Shaw, who is perhaps the most recent (major) influence on the evolution of Jazz trumpet. Shaw is heard here with his regular band (with Turre, Willis, etc.) and is in peak form, showing both the brilliance of his soloing and of his vision as a bandleader. Shaw was a visionary who created a total "sound" that was distinct and of which he was always "out in front."

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