The Story of Jazz Trumpet

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The trumpet was the lead instrument in early jazz: it is the loudest solo instrument, the natural leader of a group of individuals, if you will. So, early trumpet pioneer Buddy Bolden (there is a photograph of him with a jazz band in 1894!) is most likely the first known jazzman simply because he was a trumpeter.

And the trend continued with Freddie Keppard and one Louis Armstrong. The two most well-known jazzman to the general public, Armstrong and Miles Davis, were perhaps not surprisingly trumpeters. A history of jazz trumpet is thus a major jaunt through jazz history as a whole.

King Oliver/Louis Armstrong

Joseph "King" Oliver had the band that introduced Louis Armstrong. They were a huge hit in Chicago from 1922, and a feature was the break passages where Oliver would play and then be followed by his protege Louis. There are great breaks (the two players in unison) on "Sobbing Blues" from 1923:

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong went to New York in 1924, played with the first big band of jazz (Fletcher Henderson's) then returned to Chicago to form his Hot Five band and then his Hot Seven group. These two bands recorded one of the three top series of recordings in jazz history (that is to say, along with the best of Duke Ellington and, say, Miles Davis). These recordings also constitute the first recordings of modern popular music as we know it: when Louis began to sing (and scat) on "Jeepers Creepers," he created the template for everything from Bing Crosby to U2. The instrumentals include "Potato Head Blues," "Cornet Chop Suey," the famous "West End Blues," and the virtuosic duo "Weatherbird," recorded by Louis with master jazz pianist Earl Hines in 1928. The latter track was re-attempted by Wynton Marsalis and his pianist on his late 1980s television trumpet documentary. Here is the classic, "Potato Head Blues":

Henry "Red" Allen

A trumpet stalwart, Henry "Red" Allen was, like Louis Armstrong, from New Orleans. Allen is a participant in the late 1950s film... (also featuring Billie Holliday and Lester Young), in which he states proudly that his father "had the band" (in the district) when he grew up. He was touring Europe as late as the 1970s. In this clip, from 1946, he is dominating the stage as always—it was no different in the '70s either, according to one of his pianists at the time (English pianist Keith Ingham):

Bix Beiderbecke

Once described as the sound of a girl saying "yes," Bix Beiderbecke was the first white trumpeter to be copied by the original trumpet masters, the Afro-American trumpeters. He had a lyrical sound, well represented on, for example, "Singing The Blues," "I'm Coming Virginia," and "Ostrich Walk."

Red Nicholls

Another pioneer white trumpeter, prominent in the early 1930s, Red Nicholls has die-hard fans around the world to this day, his records glued to their turntables. He is shown here in 1935, opening with a growl:


Oren "Hot Lips" Page

A main figure in the Kansas City band of Benny Moten in 1932 (their records that year are a must hear, as in addition to Page, Count Basie is on piano), Hot Lips Page was also the king of blues trumpet: at a jam session in the 1940s, someone began to play the blues. Fats Navarro, one of the other trumpeters present, is reported to have groaned and said "Why did you have to go and do that?" (ie: play the blues). Why? Because Hot Lips Page was there, and noone could compete with him on the blues. Page can be heard here on a track from 1944 entitled "Rockin' At Ryans":

Roy Eldridge

Roy Eldridge was the stratospheric link between Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. He played in the older jazz style, ie: as opposed to "modern jazz," but with astonishing virtuosity. Listen to the amazing "After You've Gone," his calling card. His nick-name was "Little Jazz." You know, of course, that anyone in jazz with a nickname must be at the top, or noone would have bothered to come up with a nickname in the first place. " Here he is with drummer Cozy Cole, in 1958:

Bunny Berigan

Bunny Berigan, an Irish-American, had the biggest hit of 1937 with "I Can't Get Started." He sang it as well as playing a peerless high trumpet. He was Tommy Dorsey's favorite trumpeter, and a great stylist. His breathy singing added a special dimension to his records. Another example was selected by Wynton Marsalis for his documentary on trumpeters from the late 1980s: a show tune called "Until Today." The song was recorded on film for a movie, and I once magically discovered it on an old LP of jazz film recordings in a jazz shop in London. This clip shows Berigan in 1936, performing a light number with a show band:

Harry James

The white star trumpeter of Benny Goodman's 1940s swing orchestra. While ultimately a little "show-bizzy," his big band (formed when he left Goodman) was the first big big band to hire the young Frank Sinatra.


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