New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz. And some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time come from the city. Trumpet is the signature jazz horn. Below is our list of the best trumpet players in New Orleans history.
1: Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)
Sitting at the top of this list of the best jazz trumpeters of all time is one of New Orleans’ most famous sons. Before the arrival of the gravel-voiced Satchmo – who rose to fame in King Oliver’s Chicago-based band in the early 20s – jazz was defined by collective rather than individual improvisation. But Armstrong’s unparalleled gift for embroidering melodies led him to reinvent the nascent genre as a vehicle for solo extemporization. A gigantic, hugely influential figure in the history of jazz, popular music would not be the same without him.
2. Buddy Bolden (1877-1931)
Active in the first decade of the 20th Century, New Orleans-born Bolden – about whose life myths abound – was one of jazz’s early horn stars. Though no recordings of him survive, some of his compositions do – and these, along with his oversized legend, are enough to place him high in this list of the 50 best jazz trumpeters of all time. Preferring to play the trumpet’s close cousin, the compact-shaped, smaller cornet, Bolden was instrumental in shaping the sound of early Big Easy-style jazz, introducing a syncopated drum beat (dubbed the “Big Four”) that was more conducive for group improvisation than a straight marching-band rhythm.
3. King Oliver (1881-1938)
Author of the early classic jazz tunes “Dippermouth Blues” and “Doctor Jazz,” Joseph “King” Oliver was a principal architect of the New Orleans sound and mentored a young Louis Armstrong, who appeared with him on sides such as “Canal Street Blues” – reason alone for Oliver’s status as one of the best jazz trumpeters in history. The use of muted trumpets in jazz is largely down to Oliver, whose early inspiration was Buddy Bolden. Oliver played cornet up until the late 20s, when he switched to trumpet.
4. Wynton Marsalis (born 1961)
When acoustic jazz was in the doldrums in the 70s and early 80s, New Orleans-born Marsalis (an outspoken critic of anything fusion-esque or avant-garde) became its saviour, reviving the traditional straight-ahead style to great success. In recent years, Marsalis’ music has become more exploratory, and he remains one of the best jazz trumpeters of his generation.
5. Terence Blanchard (born 1962)
From New Orleans, Blanchard’s five Grammy Awards secure him his place among the world’s best jazz trumpeters, though he first came to prominence when he replaced Wynton Marsalis in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1982, eventually becoming its musical director. In the 90s, Blanchard appeared on the radar of the wider public via the soundtracks he composed to several Spike Lee movies, including Mo’ Better Blues. A versatile musician, Blanchard has embraced funk- and electronica-inflected music in recent years but without sacrificing the deep jazz core that’s the foundation of his being.
6. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (born 1983)
Just 19 when he released his debut album, New Orleans-born Adjuah – the nephew of Crescent City saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr – has risen to become one of today’s young trumpet gods. His sound, which he describes as “stretch music” (after his 2015 album of the same name), is an eclectic coalescence of elements from jazz, hip-hop, rock, electronica, and ambient music.
7. Nicholas Payton (born 1973)
From the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans-born Payton was a child trumpet prodigy (he started playing professionally at the age of 10) who, in his early 20s, was playing with drumming legend Elvin Jones and Hammond hero Jimmy Smith. Payton’s recording career as a solo artist began in 1994. He is a versatile, eclectic trumpeter who in recent years has married jazz with electronics, looped beats, and neo-soul.
8. Kermit Ruffins (born 1964)
The consummate entertainer, seems to embody the spirit of the city – laid back, swinging and joyous all at once. The trumpeter and bandleader’s sets feature classics from his idol, Louis Armstrong, and his own free-spirited, be-bopping original material. On stage, Ruffins could be decked out in a suit or a T-shirt but always has a fedora on his head and a smile on his face. He was a founder of the Rebirth Brass Band, an ever-changing amalgamation of young musicians who since the 1980s have helped revive the city’s vital street music and introduce it to a worldwide audience.
Ruffins plays with his band, the Barbecue Swingers, all over town, often playing several gigs in a day. His Thursday night set at Vaughn’s Lounge (4229 Dauphine St., 504-947-5562), a corner barroom deep in the Bywater neighborhood, has been a stop on the city’s music circuit for years.
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9. Irvin Mayfield (born 1977)
A prolific and innovative trumpeter , helped usher in a new direction for New Orleans jazz well before his 30th birthday through his close collaboration with drummer Bill Summers, the veteran percussionist from Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. During late-night jam sessions at Summers’ home in the late 1990s, they launched Los Hombres Calientes, a band that takes the sounds of Cuba, Brazil and other Latin American traditions and reinterprets it through the prism of New Orleans jazz. Mayfield, who was in 2003 appointed to the post of cultural ambassador for the City of New Orleans, tours extensively with Los Hombres Calientes as well as performing other original material with his own sextet.
10 Al Hirt The lone write in vote is certainly worthy. We add Bourbon St. legend Al Hirt to the list. His technical skills were not as great but his personality and stage presence are supreme