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  Classic Trumpet Players  
  by Dustin Garlitz  

November 2004:

With the opening of the new, redesigned Jazz at Lincoln Center building in New York City, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is standing in the footprints of some really astonishing fellow instrumentalists.   The tradition he has to adhere to places himself as a musical index along side every trumpet great from W.C. Handy, King Oliver, and Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.  Of these jazz players, the two that are most commonly mentioned as outstanding by music historians are Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis.  The influence of Miles on the current state of jazz cannot be overstated.  Yet when someone mentions Miles Davis, they should also mention two other trumpeters: Kenny Dorham and Clifford Brown.

Kenny Dorham, in my eyes, is the quintessential alternative to Miles Davis.  Sure, informed music critics like Nat Hentoff and Gary Giddens mention K.D. in the same breath as Miles…yet unfortunately the average undereducated jazz listener doesn’t know about ‘Quiet Kenny’.   One of my instrumental proficiency teachers at the New School Jazz Program in New York City's Greenwich Village - Mario Escalera - was a long time student and associate of Kenny Dorham.  I was given the opportunity to play some of Dorham’s less-frequently played compositions with him, and I can now honestly say that this classic jazz trumpet player is a true original.   From his Blue Note Records Afro-Cuban album in 1954 (which is a very strong influence on former New School Jazz student Roy Hargrove’s Grammy-winning Cristol project) to his compositions titled Mexico City and Monaco on the Live at the Café Bohemia sessions, Dorham has influences from all over the world.  He grew up on a ranch as a child, and maybe it was the pastoral landscape or fresh milk that sculpted his unique musical soul, but there are no others like Kenny.  To the untrained ear, Dorham’s well spaced solos may be confused with the economic strategy of Miles Davis.  Yet after first listen, one will become well acquainted with the trumpeter’s completely individual melodic, harmonic, and improvisational concept of modern music.    

            Clifford Brown’s staccatos still astonish me after years of listening to his classic recordings.  One thing you might not realize is that if it weren’t for the trumpeter’s untimely death (in a car accident) during 1956, a year after Bird died, he would probably be considered the preeminent modern jazz horn player of the second half of the 20th century.  Yet this title is given to Miles Davis, since he was able to stay alive over the years.  Before Clifford Brown’s death, Miles was struggling with drug addiction and wasn’t as well known or respected as Brownie.  Brown was doing his own thing on the West Coast with drummer Max Roach (it must have been difficult for Roach to lose Bird in 1955, and then Brown in 1956…yet with a little good luck he was able to find ‘Newk’ in 1956 and 1957).  His recording of "When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and "Willow Weep For Me" on his Strings album even permeated the smooth jazz world of the 1990s, when David Sanborn recorded the same songs, in similar styles, on one of his top selling albums of the decade.  You know Clifford was something special when listening to how he handles the chord changes to the jazz tune "Cherokee".  I have pinpointed many favorite segments in his thematic solo on the self-penned composition "Jordu".  Brown was also a talented composer, evident in the uplifting piece "Daahoud".  One can just wonder what would have happen if the jazz world had not lost Clifford so suddenly. 

            Sure, go ahead and listen to Diz and Miles, but don’t forget about K.D. and Clifford.  I assure you Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargrove haven’t.