Tom Harrell – American Jazz Trumpeter Bio

Tom Harrell is an American jazz trumpeter, arranger, flugelhorn player, and composer born in Urbana, Illinois on the 16th of June, 1946.

Here’s a sample of Tom’s playing, as Wayne Escoffrey looks on, enjoying every moment of it. 

Tom Harrell Bio

Moving to the San Francisco Bay area at the age of 5, Tom began playing the trumpet at the age of eight. His family then moved to live near San Francisco Bay where he played with local bands from the age of thirteen on.

In 1969 he graduated with a degree in musical composition from Stanford University and joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra, and had his first major recording experiences in that year as well.

Tom Harrell with Phil Woods-02

Tom has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia from a relatively early age (20), but, with the help of his wife, and medications, he has managed to thwart it and even thrive.  As Tom has suggested, it’s all about balancing those pesky bio-chemicals we all possess in varying amounts.  Despite his “condition” (or however you want to refer to it), he has established himself as one of the major trumpeters of his generation.  Remarkable, to say the least!

Watch this edition of the Pace Report to hear Tom talk about his feelings about jazz and also schitzophrenia, as he actually uses it to inform his highly unique brand of playing.

After leaving Kenton’s orchestra, Tom went on to play in several bands, making a name for himself in jazz along the way. 

Some of the bands he played in include Woody Herman (1970-1971), Azteca (1972), Horace Silver Quintet (1973-1977), Sam Jones Big Band, Lee Konitz Nonet (1979-1981), with George Russell, the Mel Lewis Orchestra (1981) and the Liberation Music Orchestra of Charlie Haden.

Here is Tom playing with pianist Horace Silver, and a host of other greats – Umbria Jazz – 1976.

Tom Harrell also recorded albums with other jazz luminaries such as Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Ronnie Cuber, Bob Brookmeyer, Ivan Paduart, Gerry Mulligan, Lionel Hampton, Bob Berg (as seen above), and Bobby Shew, to name but a few.

Over his illustrious career, he has recorded for labels such as Pinnacle, Blackhawk, Criss Cross, SteepleChase, Contemporary Records, Chesky, and RCA Records. 

a night of chesky jazz at town hall

Between 1983 and 1989, Tom was one of the key members of the Phil Woods Quintet, and, since 1989, Tom Harrell has been running his own bands.

Post-1989, he preferred mainly quintets but sometimes he would opt for chamber orchestras, as well as big bands.  He has played the jazz festival circuit around the world, and is no stranger to dark and moody jazz clubs either.  

At the end of the 1990’s, Harrell assembled an octet including trumpeter Wayne Andre, tenor saxophonists Don Braden, Greg Tardy, baritone Gary Smulyan, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Billy Hart.

Here’s the Tom Harrell Octet in action, playing “Samba de Amor”.

In more recent times, the size of his groups have shrunk to small, nimble units – back to the quintets it is!  One of his more recent units include Wayne Escoffery, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, pianist Danny Grissett, and Jonathan Blake on the drums.  These five has tremendous musical affinities, and excel particularly on Harrell’s own songs.

Time’s Mirror, his first major big band effort, was released by Harrell in 2000, and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance.  

Now in his 70’s, Tom is a titan among jazz trumpeters, with a catalogue of work that is really incomparable.  We ask that you check out Tom’s work on vinyl or in another high fidelity format at the first opportunity you get.  

Visit Tom Harrell’s website here

Tom Harrell Discography

As a band leader

  • 1976 – Aurora (reissued as Total , 1987)
  • 1978 – Mind’s Ear
  • 1984 – Play of Light
  • 1985 – Moon Alley
  • 1986 – Sundance
  • 1987 – Open Air
  • 1988 – Stories
  • 1989 – Lonely Eyes
  • 1989 – Sail Away
  • 1990 – Form
  • 1991 – Moon and Sand
  • 1991 – Visions
  • 1991 – Passages
  • 1992 – Sail Away – live in Paris
  • 1994 – Upswing
  • 1995 – Cape Verde
  • 1996 – Labyrinth
  • 1998 – The Art of Rhythm
  • 1999 – Time’s Mirror
  • 2001 – Paradise
  • 2002 – Live at the Village Vanguard
  • 2003 – Wise Children
  • 2007 – Humanity
  • 2007 – Light On
  • 2009 – Prana Dance
  • 2010 – Roman Nights
  • 2011 – The Time of the Sun
  • 2012 – Number Five
  • 2013 – Colors of a Dream
  • 2014 – TRIP
  • 2016 – Something gold, something blue

As a co-leader / contributor

With John McNeil

  • Look to the Sky ( SteepleChase , 1979)

With Bill Evans

  • We Will Meet Again ( Verve , 1979)

With Horace Silver

  • Silver ‘n Brass ( Blue Note , 1975) 2
  • Silver ‘n Wood (Blue Note, 1976)
  • Silver ‘n Voices (Blue Note, 1976)
  • Silver ‘n Percussion (Blue Note, 1977)
  • Silver ‘n Strings Play the Music of the Spheres (Blue Note, 1979)

With Charlie Haden

  • Dream Keeper (Verve, 1990)
  • The Montreal Tapes: Liberation Music Orchestra (Verve, 1999)

With Joe Lovano

  • Village Rhythm ( Soul Note , 1988)
  • Quartets: Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1994)

With Gordon Brisker

  • Cornerstone (Sea Breeze Jazz, 1984) 3

With Harold Danko

  • Coincidence (Dreamstreet Records, 1979)

With George Gruntz

  • Theater (ECM , 1983)

With Phil Woods

  • Integrity (Red , 1984)
  • Gratitude (Denon, 1986)
  • Dizzy Gillespie Meets Phil Woods Quintet (Timeless , 1986)
  • Bop Stew (Concord , 1987)
  • Evolution (Concord, 1988)
  • Flash (Concord, 1989)
  • Bouquet (Concord, 1989)

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