10 Essential Jazz Trumpet Albums

Start Your Collection With These Recordings Essential to Jazz History

From Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie to Miles Davis to Chet Baker, horn players are some of the most famous figures in jazz history. Any neophyte starting to explore jazz should begin with the pillars' most influential recordings and then journey on from there. Here's a list of 10 essential jazz trumpet albums, a few of which will likely elicit some surprise (and maybe some nays from purists). 

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Louis Armstrong: 'The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings' (Sony/Legacy)

Louis Armstrong

For those who wish to understand the roots of jazz trumpet playing, Louis Armstrong's work with his Hot Five and his Hot Seven is essential listening.

The first two discs cover Armstrong’s Hot Five material recorded from 1925 to 1927 (along with other recordings Armstrong made for Columbia at the time), with the Hot Seven recordings landing on disc three.

The final disc compiles a second round of Hot Five recordings along with a wealth of bonus tracks (including an enlightening 1927 Johnny Dodds session). These pieces are at the roots of jazz, not to mention the heart of American popular music in the 1920s.

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Dizzy Gillespie: 'Complete RCA Victor Recordings (1939–1947)' (BMG/RCA)

Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie was at his peak during the years of his RCA Victor recordings (1939–1947), his playing clear and precise, from the flair of "Manteca" to muted spirit of "A Night In Tunisia."

But this record is not just a testament to Gillespie's genius: It also tracks two important developments in the evolution of jazz. First, it demonstrates the elemental harmonic changes that welcomed the arrival of bebop and, second, it documents the elemental rhythmic changes that created Afro-Cuban jazz (courtesy of Chano Pozo's appearance with Gillespie for the first time). 

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Fats Navarro: 'Going to Minton's' (Savoy)

Lennie Tristano once said that Dizzy Gillespie is a "nice player, but he ain't no Fats [Navarro]." That might be a touch harsh, but Navarro's imitable skill is on full display on "Going to Minton's," particularly on the light swing of "Everything's Cool" and the frenzied "Hollerin' And Screamin'." And Navarro's band wasn't too bad either, with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Kenny Dorham all joining the fray.

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Maynard Ferguson: 'Conquistador' (Sony/Legacy)

Maynard Ferguson

The sheer commercialism of Maynard Ferguson's "Conquistador," along with the kitschy disco beats and girlie background singers, may offend those who worship at the altar of Fats and Diz. But, for what it was—sheer, unbridled trumpet pyrotechnics a la 1977—it is as good as it gets. “Mister Mellow” is essential '70s fusion, and the title cut is, if nothing else, pure energy.

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Miles Davis: 'Kind of Blue' (Sony/Legacy)

Miles Davis

The fact that Miles Davis showed up for these sessions with little more than a few ideas scribbled on sheets of paper is an indication of his confidence in where he was musically in 1958. And it shows. From top to bottom, "Kind of Blue" comes as close to perfection as a jazz recording can. A case can be made for many others in the Miles catalog ("Birth of the Cool," "Bitches Brew "), but this one excels.

You'll want a reissue of the album post-1992, when it was discovered that a tape machine had been running a little slow while making side one of the original recording, resulting in a mono version of the album that ran a little sharp. Critics recommend hearing the album in mono, as stereo recording was still in its infancy then.

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Kenny Dorham: 'Una Mas' (Blue Note)

Kenny Dorham
Blue note

A groundbreaking record that finds the title cut encompassing the entire first side, "Una Mas" highlights Kenny Dorham’s ability to attack with the horn with sharp staccato jabs in one setting (“Una Mas”) and then romance with the horn in another (“Sao Paulo”). When all is said and done, he embodies bop language and foreshadows what fusion will look like years later.

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Lee Morgan: 'Candy' (Blue Note)

Lee Morgan
Blue Note

Pure happiness is the best way to describe Lee Morgan's "Candy" record, best purchased as the 2007 Rudy Van Gelder remaster. The title cut swings, “C.T.A.” zigs and zags like a ride on the subway, and “All The Way” is the consummate jazz ballad. Morgan’s influence on his peers, as well as those who followed, can be heard in his crystal-clear tone and rich, mellow attack.

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Freddie Hubbard: 'Ready for Freddie' (Blue Note)

Freddie Hubbard
Blue Note

Like Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard’s repertoire has more than a few albums that could inhabit this list of essentials. But on "Ready for Freddie" the young Hubbard demonstrates why he’s considered a master. “Arietis” flows, from high to low, with mercurial grace; “Marie Antoinette” blends big-band sensibility with bop language, and “Crisis” speaks to the workshop ethic of the time. Buy the remastered collection, of course.

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Chet Baker: 'Plays for Lovers' (Fantasy)

Chet Baker

Sure, we could skip Chet Baker and add any number of albums from Miles or Freddie or Dizzy to this list. But who wants a steady diet of chocolate cake? "Plays for Lovers"—sometimes sad, sometimes sexy, and seldom played louder than a whisper—is so deeply immersed in West Coast Cool that it could be called West Coast Frozen. It's an icon of the style, for certain.

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Chuck Mangione: 'Feels So Good' (A&M)

Chuck Mangione

The inclusion of Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" is another that may draw “boos” from purists, but scoffers can hiss if they like. Like Spyrogyra and Herb Alpert, Mangione dragged jazz into the pop mainstream and made fans of young kids who might otherwise have never given a listen to Miles Davis.

So call "Feels So Good" a “jazz gateway drug.” And give fair props to drummer James Bradley Jr., bassist Charles Meeks, and guitarist Grant Geissman, for their playing is strong.