Best Jazz players

January 29, 2017

Best Utah Jazz of All Time

Correction: The names of Jim Rotondi, Bert Joris, and Jonathan Finlayson were previously misspelled and have been corrected below. Sincere apologies for the lack of proofreading, we still love your playing!

This week, trumpeter Chad McCullough joins me for The Woodshed’s first ever jazz fantasy draft. After the interest I received in a previous post, 50 Living Sax Players You Need to Check Out. Right Now., I knew Chad was the perfect companion to help me follow up, hipping you to a more stylistically and geographically diverse set of trumpeters than I could possibly concoct on my own.

Chad and I sat down last night and geeked out for a few hours, taking turns picking our trumpet idols off the top of our heads and sharing YouTube clips until we came up with 50 names.


The following list represents a group of today’s amazing jazz trumpet players. This is by no means the gold standard, it’s entirely our respective opinions, and the exact rank order should be taken with an extra-large grain of chunky sea salt; it’s just a guide. There may be 50 other guys who we’ve never heard or have inadvertently omitted who are equally deserving of praise. Regardless, you should still check these fine players out.

The aim is to provide a window into some of the top guys on the scene today.

Sorry, no Miles Davis here. This is meant to be representative of how each musician is currently playing, which means every individual is living and making incredible music.

Hopefully this helps you discover new artists. If any one of these guys is playing near you, please go check them out!

1. Avishai Cohen

[Chad] Melodically, trumpet-ly, so much tradition. He’s both rooted and forward-looking at the same time.

2. Ambrose Akinmusire

[Mike] With acrobatic technique and adventurous intervallic shapes, Ambrose explores a fresh and open harmonic approach. He also happens to be a great writer and bandleader.

3. Eddie Henderson

[Chad] I’ve never heard a trumpet player more in control of a band when he played. Check out The Cookers band with Cecil McBee and Billy Hart.

4. Wynton Marsalis

[Mike] Nobody plays the trumpet as well as Wynton. He’s perfect. I still love his stuff from the 80s the most, as modern and forward-thinking as anything coming out today.

5. Dave Douglas

[Chad] Tireless work ethic over so many years, epic creative output – so thought out and so well done. Dave has also been a great mentor to so many people, including myself.

6. John Swana

[Mike] Slight caveat – John now only plays the EVI due to jaw tumor/growth. But I’m so glad his genius is not lost on this alternate instrument. John plays so much harmony it’s borderline absurd.

7. Charles Tolliver

[Chad] Most Coltrane-esque of all trumpet players in band concept and in his playing. Really deep.

8. Nicholas Payton

[Mike] Just go check out Fingerpainting, where his control over bop and time is insane. I don’t know what to make of his BAM preaching, but he can still play the pants off the trumpet.

9. Terence Blanchard

[Chad] I love the sheer power and cinematic quality of his writing and his improvising. Iconic, personal sound.

10. Tom Harrell

[Mike] His sound isn’t quite what it once was, but his music is oh so compelling and probably more inspired than ever.

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