After serving in the US Navy during World War I, Frankie Trumbauer became a professional musician, working first in local bands before moving to Chicago to play and record with the Benson Orchestra and Ray Miller. In 1925-6, he led a band in St. Louis with Bix Beiderbecke, who became his close associate. The two men later worked together orchestras led by Jean Goldkette (1926), Adrian Rollini (1927), and Paul Whiteman (from 1927). By this time Trumbauer's originality was easily discernible, and in 1927 he gained his own recording contract with Okeh, leading to the creation of some of the most important recordings of the era by white jazz musicians. These performances reveal Trumbauer and Beiderbecke, together with Eddie Lang, at the peak of their inspiration.
In 1934, while still with Whiteman, Trumbauer his led own recording band, which included several young swing stars, such as Bunny Berigan. After a brief spell in 1936 as a member of the Three T's with Jack and Charlie Teagarden, he moved to California. As Frank Trombar, he occasionally lead his own big band, but was more occupied with studio work. He was a test pilot during World War II; thereafter he played briefly in studio groups (1945-7) before leaving music altogether to work in aeronautics.
Trumbauer played most members of the saxophone family but specialized in alto and C-melody saxophones; he was only successful jazz specialist on the C-melody instrument. His graceful, light-toned improvisations were extremely individual. They were acknowledged to have influenced the tenor saxophone style of Lester Young , who was greatly impressed with the recording of Singin' the Blues (1927), which Trumbauer made in the company of Beiderbecke. Trumbauer introduced delicacy into the art of jazz saxophone playing. He was a mod musical poise when improvising, and his long, singing phrases were beautifully constructed and delivered in a restrained but attractive tone. His individuality was effectively displayed in many of his recordings with Paul Whiteman's orchestra, where his pithy sense of understatement and dry, delicate tone stood out against the lush backgrounds. Later he had difficulty adjusting to the new swing style, and in his recordings from the mid-1930s his timing often appeared stiff and uneasy and his phrasing anachronistic.