Downtempo – A Guide to the Great Artists and Their Best Songs and Albums

Right in the middle of the 20th century, the music started to change. And as the technology progressed, it seemed that, somehow, the music just followed.

And along with it also came the culture, fusing into one and delivering a whole experience. The period from the 1970’s to the end of the 1990’s was crucial, as so many different genres appeared.

What was previously thought impossible, or that was just unimaginable – it all suddenly came to life during this period.


The one particular musical style that we’re interested in here is downtempo. This is actually a subgenre of electronic music, and it emerged sometime in the late 1980’s and the early 1990s’.

Of course, the exact lines are kind of blurry, but we’ll take some time to explain a few things about this style and find out more about some of the most important artists. So let’s get into it.

What is Downtempo Music?

So what is exactly downtempo music? Downtempo is a killer subgenre of electronic music, with little to no vocals and simple beats. It’s pretty laid back, just like ambient music, but it also has a beat you can groove to, unlike conventional ambient music.

Okay, look – that is kind of a lie. At the bottom of the article we have included several of the best downtempo artists and some of them include vocals, but for the sake of this brief introduction to the genre, and to help familiarize you with it, let’s go ahead and say that most downtempo music uses soft vocals for audible texture but not so much to tell a story.

We can kind of refer to it as ambient music with its own flavor, or a mix of ambient and EDM or trance. Some would maybe think of it as trip hop, but it’s still a bit of a different genre. We’ll get to that soon.

Partygoers, ravers, and clubbers will be familiar with this genre, as well as DJs, of course.

The music is a lot more chill than others in the electronica genre. Seasoned DJs will leave downtempo to the end of the set when the party draws to a close.

downtempo music

This music is also played in side-rooms of clubs or designated “take five” areas. The beats are slower and super groovy, perfect for a break from dancing or wrapping up a party.

Most clubgoers, whether they recognize and know downtempo or not, will automatically get the signal from this type of music that it’s late into the night.

If you’ve ever seen Portlandia, the theme song is a prime example of downtempo music with a chill beat that is easy to listen to and very enjoyable. There are some vocals but they’re airy and non-dominant.

Non-dominance is a good way to define downtempo. It’s got elements of ambient music and serves listeners the same way: it can be enjoyed either as a focal point or be ignored while still providing an atmosphere. It neither overpowers nor disappears.

It’s a beautiful genre for summer driving. You’ll also often hear downtempo in lounges. It’s great for a casual hangout with friends or any time you need to relax.


So where does the genre come from? To explain it, we’ll need to go way back to the old days. It all started with the synthesizer.

This instrument became more affordable to people in the late 1960s – early 1970’s and so musicians, being the experimental and curious artists that they are, ever-searching for the perfect tool for self-expression, fell in love with it.

We had the beginnings of ambient music in the 1970s.

Electronic music as we know it today really came into huge popularity in the early 1990s. The club scene brought in all kinds of new genres after the electronica ruled the sound systems everywhere because it didn’t require a live band and provided dancing crowds with non-stop movement to inspire their dancing.

It was obvious new experimentation with the synthesizer, which at the time had only been around for a couple of decades. There was plenty left to explore on that instrument with so many options.

Downtempo is usually played on a synthesizer as well as a drum machine and a few other things. Electronica is typically faster paced, and so downtempo was created not as an antithesis but simply as an alternative for lounge areas and chill-out rooms at festivals and nightclubs.

Dancers could go into these rooms and sit for a while, taking a break from the intense energy of the dancefloor and enjoying a drink. You’ll also notice somewhat of a hypnotizing element to downtempo, the same way electronica brings you in and holds you.

If we go digging a little deeper, we can see that the genre originated on Ibiza, which is a Mediterranean island that’s well known for its nightlife and electronic music. Tourists from all over the world come to Ibiza as a destination for this type of holiday. And downtempo music blends perfectly with the laid-back Mediterranean lifestyle and the beautiful scenery.

DJs have always known how to read a crowd (or, they should) and know how to bring up the energy and bring it down. On the island of Ibiza, where they party ’till sunrise, the DJs start playing downtempo to bring the crowd down after a full night of partying.

Here’s a “Best of Ibiza” chillout downtempo playlist if you want to feel a little bit of that vibe for a while.

Like we mentioned above, and downtempo is sometimes referred to as trip hop, taking elements from hip hop, drum and bass, and ambient music.

These are then combined together and played over a slower tempo. These days the music also incorporates more melodic instrumentals. However, no matter all the comparisons between downtempo and trip hop, these are still two distinct genres.

They take elements from one another, but they are still not the same thing. But quite often, you’ll see the genres interlapping, with many artists covering both in their body of work. This is, for instance, the case with Portishead. But we’ll explain it all below.

The genre has been around for about three decades now. Of course, it also saw its evolution over the years, especially during the 2000s and 2010s.

Some have even referred to it as “downtempo pop,” which is somewhat of an umbrella term for laidback music with slow tempos, mellow beats, and vintage-oriented synths.

Yes, the exact genre definitions are kind of loose, which is not uncommon for many different music styles. But the true lovers of downtempo know what we’re talking about and have more “feel” over the more precise definition of the genre.

The Artists

Now that we are familiar with the genre, let’s have a listen, shall we?

After some lurking and weighing, we dug up some of the best downtempo artists out there. Some were around for the advent of the genre and helped shape it, and some others showed up along the way and furthered the genre’s popularity by keeping it alive.

Of course, the genre has so many different great artists, but we can’t really have them all in one brief guide. The choice was not easy, but here’s the list that we came up with.

Thievery Corporation

Thievery Corporation has been around since 1995. This electronic duo has opened for Paul McCartney and worked with artists such as David Byrne and Wayne Coyne.

They bring an overtly political message with their music and actions, performing at the Operation Ceasefire concert and supporting human rights and the World Food Programme.

Visit the Thievery Corporation official website


Flume is a younger artist, born in 1991 and has been making music since 2004. He has risen to popularity rather fast, having remixed several famous songs by artists like Lorde and selling 40 000 tickets for his first national tour.

He is from Australia and his work incorporates many electronic elements from hip hop to dub. Here is his self-titled debut album.

Visit Flume’s official website

Blue Sky Black Death

Another duo on our list, Blue Sky Black Death hails from San Francisco, California. They produce their music with a drum machine, sampler, keyboard, synth, and guitar. They’ve been on the scene since 2003.

The phrase “blue sky black death” is a skydiving phrase alluding to beauty and death. They got their start making beats to rap over but soon gave up rapping to pursue producing. Below you can hear their third full-length album, Noir.

Visit the Blue Sky Black Death Bandcamp page

Kruder & Dorfmeister

Kruder & Dorfmeister get automatic points from us for their G-Stoned cover, which resembles the famous Bookends cover by American duo Simon & Garfunkel.

Peter Kruder & Richard Dorfmeister comprise this Austrian duo and have been making music together since 1993. They got their start playing big festivals and were instantly loved by the audience.

They have gone on to tour the world and continue producing music to this day. They’ve also put out their own solo albums and albums under aliases. They have at least 9 studio-recorded albums available.

Here is their first album, G-Stoned.

Check out the Kruder and Dorfmeister Facebook page

Samantha James

Samantha James stands out from others on our list for her vocal style. Many downtempo artists are producers and rarely feature vocals in their work. Rather the vocals are presented as a soft ambiance over the beat.

Samantha’s singing is incredibly soulful and gives a whole new life to this style of music. Coming from Los Angeles, she became involved with the underground dance scene there as a teenager.

She has been making music of her own since 2007. Her first single, Rise, was an instant hit in 2006 and she has since toured the world with her wonderful blend of electronic and soul music.

She has two full-length albums and has reached #1 on the US dance charts.

Listen to her first album, Rise, here:

Check out Samantha James on Om Records

Helicopter Girl

Helicopter Girl is a Scottish musician and has been active since 1993. She gives downtempo a unique spin incorporating elements from several genres, including dance music, indie pop, and jazz.

Helicopter Girl is widely revered for her vocal style and the lyrics offer a listening experience that speaks utter truth. Straight badass. You’ve just got to give a listen and experience this for yourself.

We’ve included a link to her video for Glove Compartment but we also recommend listening to her song Angel City.

Glove Compartment is mysterious and fateful; Angel City is rockier than everything else on this list, but the vocals are cool, calm and sultry, chilling you right out with icy proclamations.

Check out Helicopter Girl on Dharma Records


Portishead are one of the better-known artists on this list. They remind us of Helicopter Girl a bit – with their infusions of other genres like indie rock laid on top of downtempo – and a bit of sex appeal.

This is music you can throw on for driving or grooving out at home and works just as well in a lounge setting. Portishead has been around since 1991, taking a brief hiatus from 1999 through 2005. They took up music again after the break.

They’re an English band, well known in this genre because they were one of its pioneers. Despite their dislike for press coverage, their music has been successful internationally.

There is no exact definition of their musical styles though, and you’ll find many different descriptions of their work. For instance, Rolling Stone magazine referred to them as Gothic hip-hop.

They’ve been around so long making this kind of music that they have been played in all kinds of underground clubs and gothic scenes. They’re considered to be one of the originators of trip hop music, but they’ve also pioneered downtempo at the same time.

However you define them, it’s pretty clear that their creative style was revolutionary. And even to this day, they still remain one of the most important artists of these genres, despite not being as active as they were back in the 1990s.

Visit the Portishead website here


Now going over to something more contemporary, we have Emancipator. Based in Portland, Oregon, he goes by the name of Douglas Appling.

He officially started his work back in 2006, releasing his debut album “Soon It Will Be Cold Enough” when he was only 19 years old. As of 2020, he has released 6 albums, 2 EPs, and 2 remix albums.

Making music for the sheer love of it, Emancipator also started his own label and has even formed his band Emancipator Ensemble that plays live with him.

Overall, Emancipator’s music is different compared to many of the artists we mentioned here. The further you go in his discography, you stumble upon a lot of different elements.

It’s a pretty thin line between trip hop and downtempo. Nonetheless, Emancipator is one at the frontier of this genre, pushing it into new territories.

Released in 2020, the “Mountain Of Memory” album is a great example of how he respects the old style while also adding in new elements to it. It’s really interesting how he also blends some elements of world music in there.

Check out Emancipator’s website here


Coming from San Francisco, California, Scott Hansen started his music career back in the early 2000s. The first album under his name Tycho came out in 2006, and was titled “Past Is Prologue.”

The most exciting part is that he’s such a versatile musician, and he relies on a lot of “conventional” old school analog approaches. At the same time, he’s also a guitar player, which is the instrument that he adds to his music.

In addition, you’ll also find a lot of ambient sounds in his music, including random dialogues and even sounds of weather.

After releasing his debut, he became known among the lovers of both electronic and post-rock music. Many have also compared him with artists like DJ Shadow and Boards of Canada.

He first started performing all on his own, combining both analog and digital instruments and gears during live shows.

When things got more complex, he hired his own band. Now, he has 6 studio albums in total, with “Simulcast” coming out in 2020.

Visit Tycho’s website here

Boards of Canada

Of course, it’s impossible to avoid mentioning Boards of Canada on this list. This duo, consisting of brother Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison, has been active since 1986.

Although starting very young, it took them a while to actually release their official music. In 1995, they launched their debut EP “Twoism.” Between then and now, they have released a total of 6 EPs and 4 full-length studio albums.

Although regarded as part of the downtempo and electronic music movements, Boards of Canada added their own unique elements to their work.

Somewhat mournful and melancholic, their songs offer a different perspective on the genre. You’ll also hear a lot of psychedelic elements, ambient music, and even a genre referred to IDM, or “intelligent dance music.”

To explain it simply, their music instantly induces nostalgia, as if there’s some magic surrounding it. If you feel like going into downtempo, Boards of Canada are a good choice.

Visit Boards of Canada’s Bleep entry here

Alright, that’s all for now guys!  If you think we missed anyone or have any comments, leave them below.  Until next time!

5 Famous Jazz Mandolin Players

Mandolin takes 20th century root in American bluegrass and jazz style, both of which utilize tight improvisation and quick movement. With this article we take a look at five famous mandolin players who make/made significant contributions to the jazz mandolin style.

 1. Jethro Burns

Kenneth Charles Burns earned the name Jethro after touring as comedic duo Homer and Jethro back in the 1930s, with Henry D. Haynes. He brought humour to his mandolin acts, telling jokes between songs. His great energy and humour combined with impeccable mandolin picking and original style made him a mandolin legend.

He was a country musician, but played jazz style on the mandolin, using clean, single-note melodies rather than bluegrass style. He was responsible for introducing jazz melodies and methods of playing to country mandolinists. Growing up in the big band era, he took a lot of influence from Cole Porter and Duke Ellington.

Over the decades and into the 1970s he had inspired an entire younger generation of acoustic musicians. In this same decade he wrote several columns for Mandolin World News on both music and humour.

He toured with Haynes, Ken Eidson and Steve Goodman. He was a great entertainer, a master teacher of mandolin jazz, and was inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

  1. Paul Glasse

Paul Glasse grew up in New York. As a young person he was drawn to the acoustic sound of the mandolin. Growing up he listening to bluegrass, old timey and New England traditional music, and moved to Austin, Texas in 1977 to sturdy under Tiny Moore who taught him Texas Swing. This genre is quick in tempo and blends early country with jazz harmony, a la 1930s swing. To this day, Paul is known for this style.

In the 1980s he won several mandolin contests for his master picking including the Buck White International Mandolin Championship. His signature skills include improvisation and head, where he takes on the lead of a song, or its main theme.

  1. John Reischman 

John Reischman has a large repertoire of songs and styles, whether he is writing original pieces and touring with his band the Jaybirds, re-inventing old-time tunes, or playing bluegrass. He is renowned for his mastery of the mandolin, which he began playing in the 1970s, and helped build the new acoustic sound.

He was highly influenced by early bluegrass mandolinists such as Jethro Burns and David Grisman. Over the years he has collaborated with many artists, creating new hybrids of cross-cultural sounds on the mandolin due to his interest in musical rhythms and stringed instruments.

In addition to his collaborative albums he also has three solo albums, on which he performs both original songs and traditional tunes. He stands at the forefront of American Bluegrass style, but his mandolin style is very jazzy in the sophisticated interplay between himself and other instruments, and his ability to improvise.

  1. Tony Williamson 

Tony Williamson is a mandolin virtuoso, bringing his extensive knowledge of musical intruments and their histories to his playing. For 40 years he has delighted audiences across the globe with his superb mandolin playing, and when he is not playing he is selling vintage and pre-owned instruments. This originated with his grandfather, who made musical instruments and inspired his grandchildren Tony and brother Gary, on banjo, to begin playing in 1957.

By 1969 Tony and his brother were child sensations and won World Championship. He received his degree with highest honours at University of North Carolina where he was born and raised, and after graduating, went on tour with the Bluegrass Alliance. From there he played in a number of bands utilizing classical, folk and jazz styles on his mandolin.

His work with the mandolin is largely responsible for its modern-day popularity, as he is immensely talented as a player but also highly knowledgeable. He shows his collection of vintage guitars and mandolins to crowds, demonstrating their tone and craftsmanship. It is rare to find instruments like these being used, as opposed to sitting in museums. He continues to record, using F-5 mandolins from the 1920s (around the time Gibson had invented this model). 

  1. Don Stiernberg 

Don Stienberg has been playing mandolin for fifty years, and in this time period he has also performed, written, recorded, produced and taught. He was born in Chicago and is based there. As a child he was gifted a mandolin, and was sent to study with Jethro Burns, who became role model, mentor and friend. Don lived and breathed mandolin and played in a bluegrass band called The Morgan Brothers, and later in The Jethro Burns Quartet.

He is currently regarded as a trailblazer for the jazz mandolin style. His working band is called The Don Stiernberg Trio, with whom he recently recorded his ninth music project. The trio has performed across North America and in Germany and Brazil. He participates in The Mandolin Symposium in California and several mandolin and acoustic camps across the United States, Italy, Germany and Brazil.

What are the Main Genres of American Music?

“Good” music means something different to everyone these days, and this is highlighted by the growing number of genres and sub-genres that circulate in both mainstream and underground circles.

Most of these genres have evolved over the years due to several cultural and societal influences, and this is why every region of the world has its own particular “flavour” when it comes to music, from the Latin music of Mexico, to the Goan trance music of Southern India.

Today, however, we want to focus on the many musical genres of the United States of America.

For a person who has just started to explore the vast reaches of music, it can get very confusing at times learning what’s what, since every major genre does break down into smaller and more select sub-categories.  Upon closer inspection, some of these genres seem fairly ridiculous.

crunkcore cuddlecore cowpunk

To accurately depict the thousands of sub-genres that exist all around the world is a fairly impossible task, so we have learned to generalize into a reasonable number of “main” genres of music.

What Are The Main Genres Of American Music?

Each genre has its own favoured instruments that operate in particular scales or modes, a certain style of vocals (or lack thereof), and a definite rhythmical pattern behind the beats.  An experienced music lover will be able to tell the difference in genres simply by listening to a song, but, from time to time, a new permutation will always surface, eschewing convention.


What began as the Mississippi Delta Blues quickly became the biggest and most influential American music genre there is.  Adopted by the African-American population from traditional African music, blues became a medium of expressing agony through slow moving rhythms and emotional, and sometimes tragicomic lyrical situations.  The genre attained massive commercial success when artists from Chicago created a variant called Chicago blues.  You’ll find the influence of blues on other genres such as jazz, gospel, RnB, and hip hop.


This genre of music evolved in the early 20th century.  The early artists were all African-Americans.  It has also lead to the birth of many genres in its time, but jazz music is primarily associated with the use of blue notes, performed on instruments like the saxophone and the massive double bass.  The boundaries and scope of jazz is something that has lead to various debates in the music community, and the fact is that no one has yet settled for an accurate description that accurately encompasses the entire genre.

Rock n’ Roll

Rock music started hitting the streets in the 1950’s, and it evolved as a subset of rock and roll, rhythm and blues, classical and folk music that had been around since the 1940’s. The primary focus in rock is on the electric guitar, and the many solos that can be created with it.  The bass guitar and drums are also highly in focus here, and, for some time, even synthesizers were the rage (and they’re coming back!).  Today, we relate any music that is slightly ‘heavy’ with it, and this has also lead to the combination of rock with other various sub-genres.

From rock, we get the birth of folk rock, classic rock, punk rock, blues rock, jazz rock, soft rock, heavy metal, hard rock, alt rock, and prog rock.

Let’s hear from the puzzled panther himself, Darby Crash, famous punker.

Rock is something that is omnipresent in all cultural references today, and it is no secret that we associate rock musicians with a rebellious lifestyle, incessant substance abuse, tremendous fan bases all around the world, and an ever present sense of self-destruction.

Back when rock started, it was decidedly more light-hearted and fun, with only a slight edge.

Country Music 

Country music is certainly one of the oldest forms of commercial music.  It originated in the 1920’s in southern parts of the United States, and it has slowly spread to all parts of the world.  It is also known as country & western music, and has been embraced by countless artists, including The King himself, Elvis Presley.

The defining characteristic of early country music was an acoustic guitar, with just the vocals of the singer to accompany it.  In this way, it is similar to blues music, however, a different group of Americans were responsible for creating it – those who lived south of the Mason-Dixon line.

These days, country music expresses itself as rock, as pop, or even dance music, but the original version of country music was much simpler and expressed the feelings of those in the south.

Folk Music

Also called “roots” music, folk music is both similar to country and blues, in that it has historically found its origins in the lower social classes of people in society.  That said, folk music has always had a revolutionary streak, as it has typically been used as a means of protest, telling stories, and providing political commentary.

Instrumentally, folk music can be said to be similar to both country and blues, with the primary instrument of folk music often being an acoustic guitar (mouth harp can also frequently be heard).  However, folk music is not limited to simply just guitar, and there are other specifically instruments which often turn up in folk songs, such as banjos, jugs, spoons, and the accordion.

In more recent times, folk music has been embraced by anyone who appreciates what the genre stands for.  For instance, when Bob Dylan hit the scene in the early 1960’s, he fancied himself a folk singer like his hero Woody Guthrie, but Dylan didn’t come from poverty, as you might expect a true folkster to be.  By the time Woodstock rolled around in ’69, folk music was practically mainstream, but no less affecting.

Today, folk music can even refer to a sort of throwback to this hippy movement in the ’60’s.  For example, if you hear mild mannered acoustic music where a male and female are singing “la la la” or “whoa, whoa, whoa” in harmony, you could try to call that folk music, but, by its original meaning, it clearly is not.

Hip Hop and Rap

Relatively new to the growing list of American musical genres is hip hop, or rap music. The primary focus here with hip hop is on hard beats and DJ scratching, as well as a type of rhythmic spoken word put overtop.  Also, synthetic sounds are a big part of hip hop music, as well as samples, which involves clips from other recordings re-purposed to create new artistic expressions.

Although hip hop evolved out of the urban ghettos of the United States in the 1970’s, today it has come to symbolize success and has spread far into mainstream culture, not just in the U.S.A., but all around the world.  Hip hop has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

Pop Music

Pop music is perhaps the most confusing of any genre, because it really isn’t a genre at all. Pop is short for popular, and referring to music with popular appeal.  Thus, pop music can refer to any song from any genre, so long as it is popular.  There is, however, a conflicting idea that “pop” is a genre, and has its own characteristics.  For our purposes today, we will go with the former definition.

As it refers to popular music, pop music usually is considered to be offensive to some hipster music fans, who revile anything enjoyed by the masses.  This is almost a fair assessment of pop music, since it often strives to appeal to broadest group of people possible, in order to sell the most records possible.  This is generally done by targeting teenagers, who are the most impressionable fans out there (except for pre-teens, children, and babies).

Of course, it is possible for well crafted music to be “pop” music, but the basic premise of pop music is that it is meant to please the most people possible.  As such, it is frequently about everyone’s favourite topic – sex, whether it be directly mentioned or implied.

Pop music isn’t just about sex.  In fact, sometimes it can be about violence as well. Actually, whatever it is about, it doesn’t matter.  Pop music is the only genre where the characteristics of the music itself is secondary to its popularity.  Imagine if there were a genre of music called “rich”, where the only quality the music needed to have was being written by rich people.  How obnoxious…


There are, of course, more genres of music out there.  Many of them are sub-genres of the genres we’ve already mentioned, such as soul, gospel, funk, zydeco…the list is practically endless.

We hope you found this article interesting.  If so, please leave us a comment below!

Who Is Louis Armstrong And Why Is He Important To Jazz Music?

who is louis armstrong and why is he important

If you were to ask a non-jazz listener to name one jazz musician, especially a trumpeter, that they know of by name, then chances are they would state ‘Louis Armstrong!’ boldly and confidently. However, if you ask many members of inner jazz circles to speak on great trumpet players and jazz musicians, it seems that Louis Armstrong’s name is left out of the conversation or merely added in as an afterthought without too much detail included. Here in this article, we’ll make an attempt to dissect the reasons behind this and explain what made Louis Armstrong so influential and popular in the world of jazz.

But first, let’s start out with a tune…

Early Life

Born in the birthplace and jazz capital of the world, New Orleans, in 1901, Louis Armstrong was able to capitalize on the eclectic sounds and transformative music that exuded forth from that area. Similar to present day, much of Louisiana was in dire economic straits, and Louis Armstrong’s birthplace was no exception. To make matters worse, his father left him immediately following his birth and his mother resorted to prostitution in order to make ends’ meet. As a result, he was frequently left in the custody of his maternal grandmother during his mother’s excursions and trapped within a financial situation that forced him to leave school in just the 5th grade to begin seeking a working wage.1

young louis armstrong as a child


It was at this point that fate intervened with Louis Armstrong and pushed him towards the trumpet. A Jewish family that acted as surrogates for Louis Armstrong presented him with his first cornet right around the age of 10 years old. This gift, coupled with Louis Armstrong’s already present affinity for the musical sounds of the local New Orleans street bands and brass players that lingered around, helped to brew the perfect storm that would create one of the most prolific players of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, tragedy soon struck and Louis Armstrong was apprehended for the simple celebration of shooting a pistol up into the air. It was at this point that the local courts in New Orleans had determined that his mother was unfit to raise him and pronounced him a ward of the state.2 Louis Armstrong was also sentenced to reform school. While on the outlook, this appeared to be a major setback it actually was the catalyst that served to boost Louis Armstrong into his career as a professional trumpeter and composer. He received some degree of formal training on the bugle and easily outshined the other students there on the instrument, becoming the leader of the school’s band.3 

louis armstrong jazz trumpet


After finishing his tenure in reform school, Louis Armstrong subsequently took to the streets to begin his career as a musician. At first, he ran into significant trouble until he was taken under the tutelage of Joe ‘King’ Oliver. When Joe moved to Chicago, he was able to somehow convince Louis Armstrong to undertake the pilgrimage with him. At this point, Armstrong met his wife ‘Lil Hardin’. While this may not seem like a big deal, it was substantial for his career. His wife received a great deal of formal education and training in music, graduating from Fisk University and establishing herself as an acclaimed pianist.4 She bestowed a great deal of this knowledge directly onto Louis Armstrong and he benefited in a great way.

louis armstrong and wife


Despite the great strides that Louis Armstrong made developmentally in music, the Great Depression served as a major impediment to his financial progression, consequentially resulting in a struggle to gain steam in his career. However, the 30’s served as a much more promising decade for him, musically and financially. He relocated to Los Angeles during 1930 and served a small tenure at the Cotton Club, rubbing shoulders with some of the rich and famous that were located there at the time. Afterward, Louis Armstrong trekked back out to Chicago to continue establishing his career and building his growing popularity. Throughout this decade he traveled all over the world, taking in information from various cultures and sharing his musical talents with all sorts of people who would grow to appreciate his genius.

louis armstrong jazz band uniform

As band leader, he was able to curate opportunities for himself to serve as band leader for various motion pictures such as ‘Pennies from Heaven’ in 1936, making himself the first African-American to receive featured billing in a major movie from Hollywood.5


This was far from the pinnacle of success for Louis Armstrong though. He was still able to grow his astonishing popularity throughout the rest of the 30’s and carried this momentum with him through the 40’s. It is said that during this time, Louis Armstrong had consistently carried on one of the most gruelling tours that had ever been seen with artists. It was perhaps his extensive tour schedule, coupled with his Hollywood cameos, virtuoso talent, and knack for creating timeless hits that propelled Louis Armstrong to the starlight and critical acclaim that he enjoyed throughout his later career. It is also of note that Louis Armstrong was one of the first prominent soloists in the genre of jazz and as such served as one of its first and foremost ambassadors to the world at large.6 In addition, Louis Armstrong’s bands were filled with nothing but pure all-stars with names such as; Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden and the famous Barney Bigard.

louis armstrong in the movies


After the 40’s, many thought that Louis Armstrong’s career was over and that he would begin to taper down as many jazz artists had after their ‘prime’ or height. However, Louis Armstrong’s work ethic and motivation served as a primary driving force for him throughout the next decade. In the 50’s he was able to rejuvenate his career with a re-emphasized focus on public appearances as well as his singing ability. It was at this that Louis Armstrong began to collaborate with other great jazz vocalists at the time such as, Ella Fitzgerald. For those unfamiliar, this was right around the time that Louis Armstrong had composed Salt and Peanuts as well as his subsequent smash hit ‘What a Wonderful World’.

Therefore, whenever anyone questions what exactly made Louis Armstrong so great and prominent in jazz, its best to tell them about his incredible popularity throughout his lifetime. By strength of his sheer talent and knack for marketing himself in such an effective fashion, Louis Armstrong was able to build himself into a household name in a way that many other jazz artists had and could not. Rather than appealing simply to the crowd of already established jazz lovers, Louis Armstrong was effective at bridging the gap and reaching out to those that may not have been as familiar with the genre and effectively serving as one of the best ambassadors that the jazz world has ever known. 



Top 10 Best Jazz Trumpet Players of All-Time

best jazz trumpet players of all time

One of the most highly debated topics in the jazz sphere is ‘Who was the Best Jazz Trumpet Player of All-Time?’

best jazz trumpet player of all time

While coming up with a definitive answer is nearly impossible, many have chimed in to give their opinions on who they feel should go down as the best to ever do it in jazz on the trumpet.

But with so many amazing players from different eras and areas, it’s hard to not to factor in the obvious bias in a lot of the opinions that are given these days.

Those that grew up in the 70’s may be more predisposed to saying Miles Davis was the greatest all time. Similarly, those that grew up with a parent or a relative that was a very heavy fan of another influential jazz trumpet player may have inclinations toward another.

This list will attempt to settle the disputes once and for all and put forth a cohesive list, ranging from the inception of the genre to present day, of the best Jazz trumpet players to ever play the instrument.

Without further ado:

10. Doc Severinsen

doc severinsen trumpt

Check out one of Doc Severinsen’s many extraordinary Tonight Show performances.

9. Kenny Dorham

kenny dorham

Possibly one of the smoothest trumpet players to ever live, Kenny Dorham takes a very deserving place at the 9th spot on our best jazz trumpet players list.

Despite having some of the most lyrical trumpet playing that the genre has ever heard, Kenny Dorham still remains virtually unmentioned in the sphere of the ‘greats’ within the genre.

Perhaps best known by his composition of the famous jazz song ‘Blue Bossa,’ Kenny Dorham was unrivaled in his time in bebop composition, soloing, and playing.

Kenny had the ability to create phrases over certain changes in a song that made you listen to it in an entirely different way. His solos were both creative and innovative in every way and truly reflected his personality throughout.

When listening to Kenny, you never get the sense that his solos just contained a string of licks but rather a coherent stream of thought expressed through the very trumpet playing itself.

Check out this example of Kenny’s extraordinary playing.

8. Woody Shaw

woody shaw

A classy and smooth example of great trumpet playing, Woody Shaw pops up fairly at #8 on our list of best jazz trumpet players of all-time.

Donned a ‘virtuoso’ from a very young age, Shaw was always destined for greatness. He began his professional career at the astonishingly young age of 14 years old, ascending quickly in the ranks of professional musicianship from there.2

Afterward, Woody traveled to Paris in the 60’s where he began creating music for the famed ‘Blue Note Records’ recording label. During the 70’s, Woody’s career really picked up steam as he recorded his popular albums; Live at Berliner Jazztage, The Moontrane, Love Dance, and Iron Men.

Woody’s playing style can be best described as an alternate reality experience. He has a great habit of stringing together the ‘odd’ notes in various chords and progressions in a way that creates an unexpected, yet sonically appealing solo.

Hear an example of Woody’s prowess in this classic tune, “There Will Be Another You”.

7. Tom Harrell

tom harrell

Possibly one of the most unique stories in all of music, Tom Harrell has managed to thrive as one of the top jazz trumpet players amidst a diagnosis of extreme paranoid schizophrenia.

The symptoms began to pop up in his early 20’s, however, that didn’t stop his latent genius from being blasted on full display in each of his musical compositions.

When interviewed about the condition, he alleged that playing the trumpet actually caused the voices in his head to cease altogether, yet as soon as he stopped playing the voices would all return.3 Tom Harrell truly exemplifies the ‘tortured artist’.

Beyond that, his prolific playing speaks for itself. The effortless nature of his runs in each solo serve as a testament to his playing abilities. It is almost as if Tom Harrell himself is intertwined with the music while playing.

6. Lee Morgan


Most famous for his work with Chuck Mingus, Lee Morgan could not justifiably be left off of our list of best jazz trumpeters for any reason.

Hailing from Philadelphia, Lee Morgan had the privilege of being under the tutelage of the great Clifford Brown for a period of time before being drafted into Dizzy Gillespie’s band once he turned 18.4

Hear Lee Morgan’s legendary solo on Sidewinder.

5. Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval is another very unique story in the history of the jazz genre. Originally born in Cuba, Arturo Sandoval was a natural talent at the instrument since the beginning. He began playing the trumpet a very early age, displaying a profound level of skill for his age.

The story is fuzzy on whether Dizzy discovered Arturo or vice versa, but we know that Dizzy once traveled over to Cuba and the two ran into each other at one of Arturo’s gigs in the late 70’s.

From then on the two were able to forge a great musical partnership and friendship that would serve to help propel Arturo into immediate stardom in the genre.

4. Wynton Marsalis


The best metaphor that can be given for Wynton Marsalis would be that he’s Jazz’s version of Floyd Mayweather.

He’s a guy who’s resume and ability clearly sets him apart from all other trumpeters at large, however, the lack of parity in great jazz musicians today has greatly waned since the golden eras that these other players on the list existed in, causing some to question whether his prowess would have been as extraordinary in a different era.

Watch / listen to this clip of Wynton Marsalis strutting his stuff at Marciac 2009.


It is nearly impossible to find a great trumpet player that cannot say they were influenced by Clifford Brown’s playing or technique in some way, shape, or form. What makes this even more remarkable is that Clifford Brown only lived to the age of 25, dying prematurely due to a car accident.

Despite not learning trumpet until the age of 13, Clifford’s virtuoso skill allowed him to launch to the top of the genre in a little under a decade.

Before his untimely death, Clifford created and recorded a series of charts that would serve to immortalize him in jazz history.

The most famous of all of them, Joy Spring which was composed by Clifford Brown, would serve as the quintessential representative of his playing style and amazing prowess ass a solo artist and overall trumpet player.

Hear Joy Spring by Clifford Brown below.

2. Miles Davis

miles davis

Possibly the most famous jazz trumpet player of all time, right behind Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis stands tall at #2 on our list of best jazz trumpet players.

To those unfamiliar with Miles Davis, there may be some confusion as to why he’s placed so high up on the list. When you listen to one of his most famous songs, ‘So What,’ you aren’t immediately struck by what makes him so amazing.

However, it is the simplicity in the chart creation and his solos which made them so revolutionary. Remember, this is before an era of ‘smooth jazz’ or any related concept.

This was the prime ‘feel cool’ music to play at the time and Miles was the prime ‘feel cool’ guy. He invented the concept of allowing gaps of one’s solo play for them.

As Miles famously stated, “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.”

1. Dizzy Gillespie

dizzy gillespie

The man, the myth, the legend – Dizzy Gillespie takes the cake for #1 jazz trumpet player of all time. He’s played with or influenced just about every player on this list and the same could probably be said if a best drummer, saxophone player, or trombone player list arose.

From the puffy cheeks, the alternate fingerings, awards he won, trademark jazz charts he created to the jazz artists he tutored and influenced that went on to become legends themselves, Dizzy has done it all. The man was so influential he even invented his own trumpet which can still be bought today.

There aren’t enough good things that can be said about Dizzy as well as his contribution to jazz as a whole from his inception as a professional to his passing away.