The instrument that we now know as the trumpet developed from some of the oldest instruments known to man. Our ancient ancestors, from as long ago as 1500 BC, produced music from two primary sources, either hitting something for a beat or blowing into, or across. an opening to create a sound that resonated through a chamber, such as a horn or shell. These instruments had no ability to change pitch and mainly became used for aggressive activities such as hunting, marching or rallying the tribe.
Over time, by drilling holes in the body and by using various differing lengths of shell, the ability to create notes allowed the modern trumpet’s ancestor to play very basic melodies and even small scales and the usage changed accordingly.
The instrument that we now call the trumpet is the culmination of centuries of development and is largely due to the hard work of musicians in the late 18th early 19th centuries who created the valves that enabled the instrument to change pitch and use multiple octaves. Since 1820, a standard shape, tubular length and valve combination became established and the modern trumpet became recognizable as the instrument that we now know.
What makes the trumpet stand out from other instruments however, is that despite having only 8 key combinations possible it can play 45 distinct pitches and cover 3 octaves, also it can be muted to soften and change the timbre and a skilled trumpeter can use his breath and lip technique to define a unique sound. These qualities allow it to be used for classical pieces, jazz and rock music, making the trumpet possibly one of the most versatile instruments of all time.
Here are 10 examples of some of the best trumpet songs ever…
Examples of great Classical Trumpet Pieces
10. Trumpet Concerto in E flat by Joseph Haydn
Written in 1796 this concerto is usually considered the first piece of serious music composed for the trumpet, an instrument that was still in its late developmental stages. It was composed for a virtuoso of the fledgling instrument, Anton Weidinger, but took many years to become recognized for the stunning composition that it is. It gives the trumpeter the opportunity to showcase not only their skills but the instruments versatility. From the punctuated call and response with the orchestra to the soaring glissando this concerto demands breath and lip control and mastery of the valves to create the haunting sliding melody.
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9. Blumine by Gustav Mahler
This movement is mired in controversy as it has been left from many renditions of Mahler’s 1st Symphony due to bad critical reception on its first performances. Although it wasn’t initially composed for the symphony, it was originally 1 of 7 pieces written for Joseph Scheffel’s play “The Trumpeter of Sakkingen”, Mahler apparently loved how it worked within the symphony. It is a beautiful example of how melodic the trumpet can sound and how it can fit into the orchestral setting. It duets with an oboe to melodically describe a love affair and is an emotional piece written to be played with an understated intensity.
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Great Examples of Big Band Trumpet Songs
8. Gonna Fly Now – Maynard Ferguson
Famous for arranging so many great songs for his big band, Maynard Ferguson is also known for his brilliance in showing off the trumpet’s octave range and dynamic possibilities. Here he arranges the theme from Rocky and starts by conducting a 4 piece trumpet section who brilliantly play the intro and instantly recognizable theme to the movie. Short punctuated bursts of high horn energy play off the bass sax but at the 55 second mark, when Ferguson picks up his instrument, true mastery comes to the fore. He shows his true dynamic range, sliding into upper octave notes and utilizing his breath mastery to give a performance unlike any other trumpeter as he shapes the melody around the big band’s backing.
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7. And That’s That by The Count Basie Orchestra
Written by Dennis Mackrel this bag band classic was arranged by Basie to give free rein to the trumpet. In this performance the trumpet playing of the great Johnny Coles dovetails gorgeously with the entire horn section and Basie’s sense of rhythm provides a sold backing that gives a full and rich sound that is a perfect example of big band swing music. At the 1:30 mark Coles walks down to stage front and is allowed to riff over the melody and show how beautiful the trumpet can sound as a solo instrument. For almost 3 minutes he plays over the big band’s tight and muted backing with sheer brilliance until rejoining the section and letting the song play out.
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Examples of incredible Jazz performances
6. Spanish Key by Miles Davis
Arguably considered one of the greatest Jazz trumpeters of all time, Miles Davis shows why with this stunning performance of Spanish Key. With a paired down band of some of the greatest jazz musicians he not only performs but conducts, bringing in each instrument and changing up the tempo and the key. His breath control and legendary valve mastery are on full display as he slides into rich trumpet runs, bringing the mute in and out and constantly returning to the primary melody. This is Miles Davis at his free form best.
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5. Almost Blue by Chet Baker
Arranged from a song by Elvis Costello Chet baker uses the trumpet to, at first, replace the vocals in a way that only he could, then to augment them. His playing is pure emotion and the melancholy sense of desperation comes through with every breathy note. Although not written for the trumpet, this song shows how careful and masterful playing can make the instrument’s full and rich tones make any performance its own. Baker has one of the most diverse catalogues in jazz, but this performance is so special it represents his true genius.
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Great Pop Trumpet songs
4. Rise by Herb Alpert
Known more for his prolific catalogue with the Tijuana Brass, Herb Alpert took a song written by his nephew and produced the ultimate song for his instrument with Rise. The great Miles Davis once said of Alpert, “The first three notes and you know it’s Herb Alpert” and nobody really knows if it was a compliment or a slur. It is, however, true. His playing style is so distinctive that even when he moved away from the pop feel of the TJB and into the funk-rock groove of Rise, you simply know that it’s him. The opening bass line is so funky and fits perfectly with the keyboard, drums and handclaps that the listener is left wondering where this song will go. Then Alpert comes in with his distinctive and pitch perfect playing and lays down a melodic riff that stays with you for a long time. In the song’s mid section a key change signals an opportunity for Alpert to expand on the melody and riff around it a little, but he brings it back. This song is a perfect combination of Funk, Jazz and Pop all rolled into one.
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3. Cheerleader by Omi
The song itself would be nothing without the trumpet. From the rich, luscious mellow introduction which opens the song, it lays under the vocals at just the right time and comes into its own with single note punctuation that highlights the lyrics. The trumpet really carries the instrumental break and ends with a stunning vibrato that leads back into the next verse. The samba inspired rhythm is a perfect backdrop for the dark tone of the trumpet as it plays over the keys and drums. This is the perfect use of trumpet in a commercially based pop song.
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Great Examples of the Trumpet in Rock
2. Spinning Wheel by Blood Sweat and Tears
This band pioneered the use of a brass section in rock music and with Spinning Wheel the song both opens and closes with trumpet blasts that subliminally overlay the main melody. The twin trumpets work in perfect harmony and play off of the trombone too. Vocalist David Clayton Thomas allows the trumpets to both punctuate and augment his vocal performance, and they ride over the brass section incredibly. This band brought the brass section and particularly the trumpet out from the background and made it an essential part of their rock sound.
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1. The Distance by Cake
The first band to have a trumpeter as a founder member and primary instrumentalist in Vince DiFiore, Cake use the trumpet on an equal footing with the more conventional instruments in a rock group to provide a distinct and unique sound. In “The Distance” the guitar is relegated to a surf inspired riff while the trumpet carries the melody. Variously using his hand to mute and then letting loose with building swells DiFiore proves that the trumpet belongs in rock music and shows exactly how it can integrate into a group sound.
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If you enjoyed this selection of music featuring the rich and versatile sounds of the Trumpet head over to Listenonrepeat, the world’s industry leading #1 YouTube looper site where you can build your own Trumpet inspired playlist and listen to it over and over again.