For an instrument with such a long and interesting history attached to it, one would expect that there should be a lot of good trumpet players. As a matter of fact there are more than just good trumpeters, there are legendary players, who have turned into cultural phenomenons especially in the jazz culture. Here we are going to cover the life stories of three of the greatest trumpet players who have ever lived – Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis.
Louis Armstrong or Satchmo, as many got to know him, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to state records his date of birth was 4th August 1901, although that, Armstrong himself has stated several times that he was born on 4th July 1900. He was born and grew in great poverty in a ghetto of New Orleans, known as “The Battlefield”. His father left him and his mother, Mary Albert, very early on, and Louis was taken care of by his grandmother.
A Lithuanian Jewish family, called the Karnoffskys, gave small jobs and tasks to the little Louis and treated him kindly since they too were a target of racism. It was during that time when he first “met” music. In his memoir, Louis tells of him watching other boys playing in spasm bands (bands that use household items to make music out of). Eventually, he joined one such band, playing a tin tube, a homemade clarinet. What Armstrong didn’t know at that time, was that the musical subculture of colored young men in New Orleans, would, in the end, rise into Jazz.
Armstrong’s first professional performances began on ships along the Mississippi River. He, after all, moved to Chicago and later to New York, playing in many bands and orchestras.
His big break came when he started singing too. Louis Armstrong is known for his distinct mixed trumpet playing and singing style of music. He ultimately became an inspiration to whole generations of musicians and singers.
What is so interesting and inspiring in Louis Armstrong’s case, is that at first he never received any theoretical or practical musical training. Since his early age, just like many other boys at that time, Louis stayed at places where music was played and was trying to mimic what was being played only by ear. Armstrong gave credit to King Oliver, as the person who taught him most about music and playing by ear in general. What Louis said about those times was “Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine—I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans…It has given me something to live for.”
Louis Armstrong passed away on 6th July 1971, he is not only considered to be one of the greatest trumpeters of all time, but he is also one of the most famous musicians and singers of the 20th century.
John Birks Gillespie, or better known by his stage name Dizzy, was born on 21st October 1917 in Cheraw South Carolina. Unlike Louis Armstrong, who got into music as a way out of life hardships, Gillespie was born to a father who was an amateur bandleader, who got his son into music at a very early age.
Young John’s father introduced him to several instruments but unfortunately passed away when Dizzy was just 10 years old. Despite the fact of his father dying when Gillespie was at such a young age, he helped him develop a love relation with music. Later Dizzy taught himself how to play wind instruments, in particular, the trombone and the trumpet.
He attended the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, where Dizzy played in a band and attended music classes.
He got his first professional job as a musician in Philadelphia, where he played for the Frankie Fairfax’s band. From the get-go, his trumpet style was very similar to the style of his idol – Roy Eldridge. It was during that time when John Birks, got to have his nickname – Dizzy, due to his clowning and capriciousness.
Gillespie was hired by the former band of his idol, when Dizzy was just 20 years old, filling in the spot that Eldridge left. For the following years, Gillespie continued to play in numerous bands and orchestras, developing and refining his style. It was in the late 1940s when Dizzy formed his own band, and at the time it was considered to be the most refined large jazz orchestra. He is widely known for his band’s repertoire which included refined bop (bop was the first branching of mainstream jazz music) music.
Dizzy continued to play jazz for many years to come, and today he is recognized as the most influential bop musician. He is one of the greatest and most influential jazz musicians and trumpetists to have ever lived.
Dizzy passed away on 6th October 1993, in Englewood, New Jersey.
Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926, in Alton Illinois. His family was well off, with his mother being a music teacher and violinist and his father a dentist. The family also owned a profitable 200-acre pig farm in Arkansas. Having a mother who was a violinist, she recognized his talent for music and wanted him to learn the violin too. But a friend of his father bought Miles’s first trumpet in 1935, which sparked a huge interest in the then young Miles Davis. His trumpet teacher was Elwood Buchanan, who had radical music views and was strictly against the so popular at that time vibrato in music.
At the age of 15 Miles joined a school’s marching band in the East St. Louis Lincoln High School, which he also attended. Once he was asked to play a certain music sequence by a drum player, and when Miles couldn’t, he turned to music theory and read every single book about it that he could get his hands on.
He continues to study music and play the trumpet. In 1944 he went into the Institute of Musical Arts, which would later be known as the Juilliard School, in New York City. While Miles was in New York he tried all he could to find his then idol, Charlie Parker. Eventually, he did get in touch with him and started playing as one of the cadres of regulars at the club when Parker played.
During his second year of studying at the Institute Miles, decided that he had had enough of studying and wanted to play full time.
The following year Davis played in several clubs as the sideman of Herbie Fields. He made his big break when he got to replace Dizzy Gillespie in the Charlie Parker Quintet. At that time he got to play several times along Gillespie himself and Max Roach. He kept playing along with those already famous trumpeters until the 1950s.
He entered his dark period in the early 1950s when he got into hard bop music and began taking drugs. In 1955 Miles ended in a hospital for a polyps operation, and after a hot arguing with his doctors he damaged his vocal strings, from which he never recovered until the end of his life. But instead of quitting singing, he used his new raspy voice, which eventually got him the lifelong nickname – “prince of darkness”.
Davis never stopped playing and singing, with him constantly experimenting with new ideas, and even at one point, he began using electronic music along with his bop performances.
Miles Davis remains as one of the greatest trumpet players of all time. He remained ever active, with last performance he recorded was in August 1991, and just a month later he died at the age of 65 on 28th September 1991. His preferred trumpet was a Bb (a showcase of the different types of trumpets).
If you too want to learn how to play the trumpet, the instrument that allowed Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and many others to become contemporary legends, then you should check our app available for both iOS and Android.