Is Tom Harrell the best jazz trumpet player in the world?

Yesterday, at a social event, a parent at my son’s school told me that is child is learning to play the trumpet and mentioned that “the best jazz trumpet player in the world” lives in his neighborhood, a few buildings away from him.

Because we both live in New York City, I immediately thought he must be referring to Wynton Marsalis, but I knew this couldn’t be true because Wynton lives near Lincoln Center and my friend lives further uptown. After he started describing the “best” trumpeter in more detail, I realized he was talking about Tom Harrell.

Wow – Tom Harrell!!! I haven’t heard Tom Harrell in a long time, ever since I used to go see him in NYC jazz clubs back in the 1990s! Is he the “best” jazz trumpeter in the world?

Well, if “best” means someone who has completely mastered both the instrument and the jazz vocabulary, has put in decades of practice and live performance, and has transcended all stylistic boundaries to purely express themselves on their instrument in the most personal and direct way possible, then…. yes… Tom Harrell might be considered the “best.” (There are other players in this category as well.)

I did a quick YouTube search for “Tom Harrell” and the first thing that came up was this absolutely stunning performance of his original composition Journey To The Stars, which he performed at the 2013 National Trumpet Competition. It’s more than a little ironic that Harrell was performing at a trumpet competition, because to my mind, one reason why he plays so well is that he’s clearly not “competing” with anyone, not even himself. So the young “competitors” would do well to emulate his example and not “compete” either! (But hey, the competition certainly served to inspire lots of trumpeters so who’s to say???)

It’s worth listening to this whole performance:

Here’s Tom from his younger days, playing some hot jazz:

I don’t know who the “best” jazz trumpet player in the world is, or even if that’s the right question to ask. But I do know that you can’t get any better than Tom Harrell!

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