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Musicians use the trumpet in a variety of different types of music, from high-energy swing to smooth jazz. A song can be considered trumpet music if the brass instrument is prominent in the tune. Trumpet music as a genre, however, is more subjective. Styles that use the trumpet to coin their sound are thought of as trumpet music.
The trumpet is a necessary brass instrument in the horn section of a band. The trumpeter commonly fronts the band and is sometimes known as the band leader in certain outfits. Some of the main genres that widely utilize trumpet are jazz, big band, and ska.
Jazz is one of the earliest forms of trumpet music with roots in the early 1920s. It began in African-American communities in the United States of America and stems from both African and European musical influences. Subgenres include New Orleans-style jazz, swing, and Latin fusion. Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie were famous trumpeters and musical geniuses that rallied trumpet music in their respective scenes.
Big band is a form of trumpet music known for its swinging rhythms, high energy, vintage sound, and brass horn sections. Swing music is a subgenre of big band trumpet music that features one or multiple trumpets. It was popular in 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s and was performed in ballrooms where patrons could dance in big, open spaces. Swing bands often have eight or more members, including a drummer, bassist, guitarist, and any number of horn players, including one or more trumpets.
Swing music made a huge revival in the 1990s with bands like the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. All of these bands utilized the trumpet to trademark their sounds. The trumpet plays the highest register of the brass family and can be the most prominent sound in the horn section. Frank Sinatra was an early innovator of swing music who was backed by a horn section featuring trumpet players.
Reggae and ska are other mainstays in trumpet music. Reggae is a slower groove and sometimes features trumpet playing. Ska is a genre in a similar vein as reggae but nearly always features trumpets and horn sections. Both genres are very danceable, but ska is much more fast-paced and features the trumpet front and center, leading the horn line. Ska bands that became popular with great trumpeters include Reel Big Fish, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Mad Caddies.
Lots of people think of the trumpet in a jazz or swing context but it has also been used to very interesting effect by experimental musicians. The trumpet can produce an amazing range of sounds, and if the player is so inclined they can play in very harsh and atonal ways.
Composers of experimental jazz, ambient soundscapes, noise rock, minimalism and dance music have all used trumpets in creative ways. It is an amazingly versatile instrument. It has a wide open sound that can work in lots of different contexts.
Miles Davis is probably the most famous trumpet player of the last century. I love a lot of his work but there is one song of his in particular that I come back to over and over again. It is called Little Church and it is on his album Live/Evil.
Honestly it is one of the saddest songs I have ever heard. But not so much because it sounds sad, it sounds lonely and yearning, like the trumpeter hopes for something that is not there. It does this amazing trick where it contrasts the sound of Davis' trumpet with a human whistle. The whistle and the trumpet take turns being strong and forceful and then weak and vulnerable. It is beautiful and evocative music. Check it out if you are ever feeling blue.
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