Louis Armstrong | (1901 – 1971)
Why is he a master? | So many reasons: he was a great singer, an ebullient personality, and a wonderful musical ambassador. Armstrong was also the first virtuoso of the trumpet, and his talent was large enough to move it from a supporting role to a front-and-center, improvisational solo instrument. Without his influence, this list might have been A Dozen Clarinet Masters.
Recommended Album | His Hot Fives & Sevens, in any form, represents the birth of modern jazz.
Listen | Gut Bucket Blues
Bix Beiderbecke | (1903 – 1931)
Why is he a master? | Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke lived fast, died young, and played a beautiful trumpet. Along with Armstrong, he helped popularize the instrument, and ably demonstrated what a well-played improvisational solo could sound like. Beiderbecke drank himself to death on Prohibition rotgut at age 28, but existing recordings show him to be every bit as exciting a soloist as Louis Armstrong.
Recommended Album | Whatever you can get your hands on.
Listen | Singin The Blues
Dizzy Gillespie | (1917 – 1993)
Why is he a master? | The name says it all. Dizzy played with not only blinding speed, but breathtaking clarity that brought to life each note of his musical avalanches. The super-charged style of soloing he brought forth with Charlie Parker was so explosive that a new term (“bebop”) was coined to describe it. He was also a jazz statesman and teacher who always seemed to wear a 100-watt smile.
Recommended Album | Dizzy Gillespie & Roy Eldridge, but most of his catologue is solid.
Listen | Night And Day [from the album Groovin’ High]
Clifford Brown | (1930 – 1956)
Why is he a master? | Before he died in a car accident at age 25, ‘Brownie’ made a number of fine bop albums with drummer Max Roach. His death is one of the great tragedies in the history of the genre, because – unlike most of his contemporaries – Brown didn’t drink booze or use drugs. He had a bright future ahead, and even though he didn’t fully realize his potential, Clifford Brown was primary inspiration to a generation of trumpet players.
Recommended Album | Clifford Brown & Max Roach, Vol 1 – or just about anything else the pair made together.
Listen | Finders Keepers [from the album Jazz Immortal]
Miles Davis | (1926 – 1991)
Why is he a master? | Why is the sky blue? Some things just are what they are, and Miles is the trumpet master. He made three significant contributions to the evolution of jazz – the ‘cool’ style of the late 40’s/early 50’s, Kind Of Blue in 1959, and the jazz fusion bombs of Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way. Sure, he was was crabby and mean-spirited, but he also had a dark, magnetic energy that remains impossible to turn away from.
Recommended Album | Kind Of Blue, Bitches Brew, Birth Of The Cool, and any other of his albums that regularly garner 5-star reviews.
Listen | So What
Chet Baker | (1929 – 1988)
Why is he a master? | He had an impossibly warm and lyrical tone that gave his ballads a magical quality. Like Art Pepper, he was able to make subtle, beautiful music in spite of the drug-fueled chaos that ran rampant throughout his life. Everything he recorded after 1970 is atrocious, but when Chet Baker had it, he really had it.
Recommended Album | The Route (with Art Pepper) and The Best Of Chet Baker Plays, as well as anything he recorded with Gerry Mulligan.
Listen | Stella By Starlight
Doc Cheatham | (1905 – 1997)
Why is he a master? | Cheatham played the trumpet brilliantly into his 90’s, which is the musical equivalent of playing quarterback in the NFL until age 50 – it just doesn’t happen. His career is bookended by two extraordinary albums, Shorty & Doc with Shorty Baker, and Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton, but the stuff in between isn’t too bad either.
Recommended Album | Shorty & Doc
Listen | Good Queen Bess
Art Farmer | (1928 – 1999)
Why is he a master? | Vastly underrated during the 50’s and 60’s, Farmer cut a number of fine albums for a who’s who of jazz labels that includes Atlantic, Prestige, Columbia, United Artists, and CTI. Farmer is also one of the very few jazz artists to make consistently good albums through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.
Recommended Album | Modern Art, and everything else he recorded with Benny Golson.
Listen | Darn That Dream
Freddie Hubbard | (1938 – )
Why is he a master? | Hubbard recorded classic sides with jazz legends such as John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Oliver Nelson, and J.J. Johnson. And while he played sideman on some of the finest jazz albums of all-time, his own Blue Note albums Open Sesame, Goin’ Up, Hub-Tones, and Breaking Point deserved to be recognized as well.
Recommended Album | Hub-Tones, by a nose – and possibly because it’s one of the coolest album covers of all-time.
Listen | You’re My Everything
Lee Morgan | (1938 – 1972)
Why is he a master? | He made a string of brilliant albums for Blue Note in the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s, but The Sidewinder (1963), The Rumproller (1965) and Cornbread (1965) deserve special mention, as they’re some of the funkiest non-fusion jazz albums in existence – each a musical treasure. Morgan was murdered by his common-law wife in 1972 at age 33.
Recommended Album | The Sidewinder
Listen | The Sidewinder
Wynton Marsalis | (1961 – )
Why is he a master? | He almost single-handedly kept jazz alive during the 1980’s, and he’s been an enthusiastic spokesperson for the genre ever since. Marsalis broke in with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the late-70’s, and his immense talent was apparent right from the start of his career. His role as one of the principles in Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary was just the latest example of his star power, and – oh yeah – he makes some pretty good albums too.
Recommended Album | Marsalis Standard Time, Vol 1
Listen | Caravan
Erik Truffaz | (1960 – )
Why is he a master? | Deeply influenced by Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, Truffaz isn’t afraid to take his trumpet into new and dangerous territory, playing in a wide variety of styles that bring jazz into the 21st century. That said, his lyrical, introspective, Miles-inspired albums remain his best efforts.
Recommended Album | Out Of A Dream, which is Kind Of Blue‘s genetic offspring.
Listen | Down Town
And a half-dozen more…
Harry “Sweets” Edison
Sidney Bechet (thanks to David Foran for pointing out that Bechet actually played clarinet – d’oh!)
[Unless otherwise noted, the MP3 selections here were taken from the artists’ recommended album]