We’ve already written about 10 of the most famous jazz trumpeters in history, so in this article we’re going to run through some of the best modern trumpet players.
The trumpet was the original archetypal jazz instrument.
Buddy Bolden – the very first jazz improviser, according to many – and Louis Armstrong, jazz’s first major improvising soloist, were both trumpeters, as were early pioneers Bix Beiderbecke, Henry “Red” Allen and Bunk Johnson.
Then, of course, there were the heroes of bebop, hard bop and the Avant garde.
The trumpet has arguably been overtaken by the saxophone as the most common jazz instrument, and the one that the average person pictures when they think of the genre.
But there are still plenty of brilliant modern jazz trumpet players out there, from innovators who are pushing the capabilities of the horn to its limits, to classic stylists taking inspiration from past masters.
Each one of these modern trumpet greats has come to prominence (approximately) since the 1990s and, whilst not all are still with us today, each forged a unique voice on the instrument whilst receiving praise from their peers and the critical establishment alike.
Having already caught the attention of M-Base saxophonist Steve Coleman who hired him for a European tour, Ambrose Akinmusire won two of the most prestigious awards in jazz in 2007: the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition.
Like a number of his peers he released his debut album – 2008’s Prelude… To Cora – on the Spanish record label Fresh Sound New Talent, before moving to Blue Note. It was there that he really began to make a name for himself with his impressive brand of highly emotive and intense original music.
Akinmusire has frequently collaborated with tenor sax player and fellow Los Angeles native Walter Smith III, with the two regularly appearing on each other’s albums.
Beyond his choice of notes and rhythm, Akinmusire improvises with sound and timbre, and the powerful noises he conjures from his trumpet are incredibly distinctive.
His music has taken on an increasingly political direction in more recent years, with 2018’s Origami Harvest addressing racial inequality in the United States via chamber music, hip hop and free improvisation.
Key Ambrose Akinmusire album: As The Heart Emerges Glistening
Akinmusire’s 2011 Blue Note debut was described by Will Layman of Pop Matters as “the product of a talent that should send shivers up every jazz fan’s spine”.
As a talented 16 year old, trumpeter Roy Hargrove had the chance to perform for Wynton Marsalis when Marsalis visited his high school in Dallas, Texas.
Wynton was so impressed that he began to mentor Hargrove and invited him to guest on a number of high profile gigs with his own band.
Hargrove’s star rose after he moved to New York to study at The New School, with opportunities arising to collaborate with Shirley Horn, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and other elder statesmen.
In 2002, Hargrove made the Grammy Award-winning quintet album Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall as co-leader with Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker, securing his position on the jazz A-list.
Having cut his teeth in all manner of straight ahead jazz settings, he moved into the realm of soulful, gospel-influenced funk with his band The RH Factor, which, with relentlessly catchy tunes like “Strasbourg St. Denis”, remains something of a cult favourite.
A true pillar of the New York jazz scene, he was a constant presence at late night jam sessions at clubs like Smalls, desperate to simply hang out and play, despite his status as a bona fide star.
His sad and untimely death in 2018 sparked a huge outpouring of grief from the international jazz scene. He was aged just 49.
“He played with an unusual and infectious combination of fire, honesty and sweet innocence. The first time I heard him it was clear, he was an absolute natural with phenomenal ears, a great memory and tremendous dexterity on our instrument.” Wynton Marsalis
Key Roy Hargrove album: With the Tenors of Our Time
Joshua Redman, Johnny Griffin, Branford Marsalis and Joe Henderson feature on this 1994 date for Verve.
Chicago native Marquis Hill takes a diverse approach in terms of the influences upon his music, with hip-hop, R&B, Chicago house and neo-soul all informing his approach to contemporary jazz. He says:
“It all comes from the same tree. They simply blossomed from different branches.”
His love of hip hop is particularly apparent on his groovy 2019 album Love Tape, the opening track of which is a tribute to the late Roy Hargrove.
As of 2014, Marquis Hill had self released four records: New Gospel (2011), Sounds of the City (2012), The Poet (2013) and Modern Flows E.P., Vol. 1.(2014).
But that year he became the first trumpet winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz competition since Akinmusire, which led to him releasing The Way We Play on Concord Records in 2016.
The Blacktet, Hill’s long-running working band, continues to be a popular draw at major jazz clubs and festivals around the world.
Key Marquis Hill album: The Way We Play
Hill had previously focused upon original material, but this 2016 album sees him approaching standards in highly personal fashion, including Gigi Gryce’s “Minority” and Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”. It includes a number of spoken-word interludes.
Dave Douglas (who we interviewed here) must be one of the busiest and most productive characters in jazz.
In addition to his playing and composing career, the New Jersey native has sidelines as both label boss and podcast host.
His record company, Greenleaf Music, has released albums by Donny McCaslin, Kneebody, Linda May Han Oh, as well as Douglas himself.
Meanwhile his monthly podcast, A Noise From the Deep, records him in conversation with significant jazz artists on a range of topics.
As a contemporary jazz trumpeter, his incredibly diverse list of projects has included the Mary Lou Williams tribute Soul to Soul, and a band called Keystone, which plays works inspired by the actor, comedian and director Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle.
Meanwhile, Soundprints, a co-led quintet with Joe Lovano, pays homage to Wayne Shorter, and his quartet Riverside is inspired by Jimmy Guiffre. He has covered songs by artists as wide-ranging as Thom Yorke, Björk, Rufus Wainright and Mary J. Blige.
Douglas has won a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Aaron Copland Award.
“Dave Douglas is the unassuming king of independent jazz, a model of do-it-yourself moxie, initiative and artistic freedom.” Frank Alkyer, DownBeat
Key Dave Douglas album: Live at the Jazz Standard
Douglas plays cornet on this live album of original music, which was released on his Greenleaf Music label in 2007.
Wallace Roney’s life as a musician began in impressive fashion: he was the only trumpet player ever to be personally mentored by Miles Davis. The two horn players played together on the 1991 album Miles and Quincy Live at Montreux, having formed a close friendship.
Early on, Roney was lauded as one of the most talented members of the Young Lions movement, the informal collective of African American jazz musicians who brought a return to ‘traditional’ acoustic jazz values in the 1990s.
He was also mentored by jazz trumpet greats Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry and Woody Shaw as a youngster and, at just 16 whilst still at school, he had the opportunity to gig with piano great Cedar Walton.
Roney was also a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Tony Williams’ quintet and, for a time, Ornette Coleman’s quartet, in which he took the place of Don Cherry.
Following Miles Davis’ death, he won a Grammy Award for A Tribute to Miles, which featured the remainder of Davis’ Second Great Quintet – Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams – with Roney in the trumpet chair in place of Miles.
Roney for a long time was arguably hampered by constant comparisons to Davis, but in time received acclaim for having developed a strong artistic vision of his own.
Tragically, he died at the age of 59 in 2020 from complications arising from COVID-19.
Key Wallace Roney album: Village
This 1997 programme of standards and originals features Geri Allen, his wife at the time, on piano.
Canadian jazz trumpeter and composer Ingrid Jensen was raised in Nanaimo, British Columbia.
After graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston, she won the 1995 edition of the Carmine Caruso Trumpet Competition.
The burning post-bop of her 1995 debut Vernal Fields won her a JUNO Award the most prestigious music industry award in Canada, while later albums like At Sea and Flurry garnered glowing reviews.
Jensen is well known for her large ensemble work, having been a long-standing member of two of the most influential big bands in contemporary jazz in the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra and Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society.
She now frequently guests as a soloist with big bands and jazz orchestras around the world.
“Ingrid plays trumpet with all the brilliance and fire of a true virtuoso, following the spirit of the muse as she creates..warm, sensitive and totally honest…” – Marian McPartland
Key Ingrid Jensen album: Infinitude
This 2016 album is a jointly-led project with her sister and frequent collaborator, alto saxophonist Christine Jensen.
Trumpeter Christian Scott comes from New Orleans, Louisiana, and is the nephew of famed jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr.
A player of progressive tendencies, he has developed a harmonic technique known as the “forecasting cell”, which he describes as “a mixed intention cell or chord that is a complete hybrid of a consonance and a dissonance”.
He also uses an unusual playing style that prioritises breath over vibration at the trumpet mouthpiece, known as the “whisper technique.”
He has a concept called “Stretch Music”, which he outlines, along with discussion of his approach to the jazz tradition versus the idea of innovation, in an insightful essay on his website.
His goal is to “stretch” the conventions of jazz to include a wide range of languages, cultures and forms. He also designed a Stretch Music app, which won him the JazzFM Innovator of the Year award in 2016.
All of this led AnOther Magazine to describe him as “a genuine trans-medium pioneer, melding diverse musical forms in a genuinely shamanic brew of singular vision”.
Since 2011 he has been known professionally as Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, as a way of acknowledging his West African heritage.
Key Christian Scott album: Rewind That
Scott’s 2006 debut for Concord Records demonstrates his hip hop and R&B influences. His uncle plays saxophone on four tracks.
When Nicholas Payton’s profile began to rise in the 1990s, the New Orleans native was marketed as something of an old fashioned jazz stylist:
“I was kind of labeled—I feel unfairly—as a traditionalist, and was branded as the second coming of Louis Armstrong”
He has certainly played straight ahead jazz at the highest level, touring and recording as a sideman with classic soul jazz organist Jimmy Smith, legendary drummer Elvin Jones and others, as well as paying homage to the music of Armstrong and Herbie Hancock on his own recordings.
But more recent releases have revealed a different, genre-bending side to his artistry.
His 2011 album Bitches saw him take rather a surprising left turn into D’Angelo-esque R&B, with Payton playing all the instruments himself and contributing vocals alongside a number of guests
His 2019 disc Relaxin’ with Nick sees him playing trumpet, piano and Fender Rhodes, with classic New York rhythm section Peter Washington and Kenny Washington on bass and drums respectively.
Cleverly, Payton is able to comp for himself at the keyboard with one hand whilst playing his horn with the other!
He has also written orchestral music, including his Black American Symphony, which he premiered with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in 2012.
During the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown he recorded an album from his dining room called Quarantined with Nick, with fellow NOLA residents guitarist Cliff Hines and vocalist Sasha Masakowski, which contains topical originals like “Social Distance”.
Payton also writes thought-provoking and sometimes controversial essays on his blog.
Key Nicholas Payton album: Fingerpainting: The Music of Herbie Hancock
This 1997 date features compositions by the great pianist in an intimate trio setting with bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Mark Whitfield.
Avishai Cohen was born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1978.
After moving to Boston, USA, to study at Berklee, he made the move to New York City and began to make his name on the scene centred around Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village.
Because people frequently confused him with his namesake, the famous Israeli double bassist, Cohen named his 2003 debut album The Trumpet Player.
Since playing on Mark Turner’s chordless quartet record Lathe of Heaven for ECM in 2014, Cohen has released four of his own albums on the label.
His latest, Big Vicious, is something of a stylistic departure from his more swinging roots, taking in the influence of psychedelica, trip hop and ambient music.
As well as leading his own groups, he has played as a sideman with SFJAZZ Collective, Kenny Werner and The Mingus Big Band.
Cohen also plays with The 3 Cohens Sextet, a popular family band that he runs with his sister, clarinetist and saxophonist Anat, and brother, saxophonist Yuval.
“To the ranks of the Heaths of Philadelphia, the Joneses of Detroit and the Marsalises of New Orleans, fans can now add the 3 Cohens of Tel Aviv.” All About Jazz
Key Avishai Cohen album: Dark Nights
The third album by Cohen’s long-running Triveni trio, with Omer Avital and Nasheet Waits, includes hip, minimalist versions of the standards “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” and “Shiny Stockings”.
Steve Fishwick might be less famous than some of the names on this list, but those in the know rate the Manchester-born, London-based jazz trumpeter as one of the finest players anywhere.
A diligent student of the mid-century trumpet tradition, he has transcribed Kenny Dorham extensively, as well absorbing the varied influences of Art Farmer, Miles Davis, Woody Shaw and Tom Harrell to come up with a classic-meets-contemporary sound that is all his own.
A frequent international collaborator, he has played as a sideman with high-profile Americans like Anita O’Day and pianist Hod O’Brien.
Recent recordings of his own have featured current leading lights of the New York scene including pianist Jeb Patton and baritone saxophonist Frank Basile.
“My question is where has Fishwick been hiding? Hip middle register melodious bebop, but when Steve lights his wick he becomes a flying fish, soaring above the waves, totally in control!” Ira Gitler
Key Steve Fishwick album: With Cedar Walton!
New York piano legend Cedar Walton guests with Fishwick’s hard bop quintet on this 2007 recording. Welsh saxophonist Osian Roberts completes the frontline, while Steve’s twin brother Matt Fishwick is on drums.
Thanks for checking out this round up of 10 of the top modern jazz trumpet players!
As with all these jazz music guides, this just scratches the surface; there are many more jazz trumpet albums to discover from each of these musicians, and many more contemporary trumpeters out there to check out!
If you’re looking to learn more about the ‘legends’ we made a list of the most famous jazz trumpet players in history for you, as well as this in-depth look at the life and albums of the legendary Miles Davis.
We’ve also worked with some current jazz trumpet players to round up the best jazz mouthpieces for all levels and styles.