50 Killer Living Trumpet Players: Chad & Mike’s Excellent Adventure

Posted by on Feb 5, 2015 in Inspiration, Trumpet

Avishai Cohen meets Bill and Ted

Correction: The names of Jim Rotondi, Bert Joris, and Jonathan Finlayson were previously misspelled and have been corrected below. Sincere apologies for the lack of proofreading, we still love your playing!


This week, trumpeter Chad McCullough joins me for The Woodshed’s first ever jazz fantasy draft. After the interest I received in a previous post, 50 Living Sax Players You Need to Check Out. Right Now., I knew Chad was the perfect companion to help me follow up, hipping you to a more stylistically and geographically diverse set of trumpeters than I could possibly concoct on my own.

Chad’s a wonderful trumpet player; look out for his upcoming Origin release with Belgian pianist Bram Weijters:

Chad and I sat down last night and geeked out for a few hours, taking turns picking our trumpet idols off the top of our heads and sharing YouTube clips until we came up with 50 names.


The following list represents a group of today’s amazing jazz trumpet players. This is by no means the gold standard, it’s entirely our respective opinions, and the exact rank order should be taken with an extra-large grain of chunky sea salt; it’s just a guide. There may be 50 other guys who we’ve never heard or have inadvertently omitted who are equally deserving of praise. Regardless, you should still check these fine players out.

The aim is to provide a window into some of the top guys on the scene today

Sorry, no Miles Davis here. This is meant to be representative of how each musician is currently playing, which means every individual is living and making incredible music.

Hopefully this helps you discover new artists. If any one of these guys is playing near you, please go check them out!


Top 50 Trumpeters


1. Avishai Cohen

[Chad] Melodically, trumpet-ly, so much tradition. He’s both rooted and forward-looking at the same time.


2. Ambrose Akinmusire …read more

Live in LA: Ben Wendel Quartet, Jeff Parker w. Eric Revis, & Kendal Moore’s Octet

Posted by on Jan 29, 2015 in Bootlegs, Inspiration


After 5 action-packed days in Los Angeles, I’m rejuvenated. Yes the beaches were amazing, the sunsets made for beautiful sky porn* (like this shot I took after almost running out of gas just north of Malibu), and the sushi was scrumptious. But even better was the music. All three shows I checked out while visiting were inspiring, so I thought I’d share some crappy iPhone recordings I took.

Ben Wendel Quartet

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty much in love with pretty much anything Ben Wendel. Pretty much. But I had the privilege of hearing him with Eric Harland, Taylor Eigsti, and Harish Raghavan at the Blue Whale. Ben’s compositions and playing were tasty, Eric Harland and Taylor Eigsti obviously blew me away, but I was most taken by how elegantly Harish was able to hold everything down on bass.


50 Living Sax Players You Need to Check Out. Right Now.

Posted by on Jan 23, 2015 in Inspiration, Sax



Preface:  The following list represents a group of today’s amazing jazz saxophonists. This is by no means the gold standard, it’s entirely my opinion, and the exact rank order should be taken with an extra-large grain of chunky sea salt; it’s just a guide. There may be 50 other guys who I’ve never heard or I’ve inadvertently omitted who are equally deserving of praise. Regardless, you should still check these fine players out.

The aim is to provide a window into some of the top guys on the scene today

Sorry, no Charlie Parker here. This is meant to be representative of how each musician is currently playing, which means every individual is living and making incredible music.

Hopefully this helps you discover new artists. If any one of these guys is playing near you, please go check them out!


Mark Turner

Seems like every saxophone player today wants to sound like Mark Turner. But who can blame them? With a beautiful sound, mastery of the altissimo, and a full and warm tone that’s consistent throughout the horn, the guy is a gentle giant. In his latest release, Lathe of Heaven, Mark explores new ways of writing for 2 horns and creates a dark, intriguing aura that, after a short period of adjustment, is a delight to listen to. He’s moving the music forward.


Seamus Blake

Like Tuner, Seamus has a lot of idols. He seems to play as if singing through his horn, soaring through altissimo lines with the same ease that he wails through a funky or bluesy riff.


Walter Smith III

A supremely stylized improviser, Walter develops ideas and explores harmony in a fascinating way.


Ben Wendel

Ben has his own thing going on, and it’s a pleasure to hear. Like Cannonball Adderley did before him, Ben plays with such conviction that he’s able to mold he harmony to fit whatever insane line he’s concocted. He’s also incorporated extended sax techniques in a very musical manner. Thanks, Ben. I’ll be checking him out tomorrow night at the Blue Whale when I touch down in L.A., come join me if you’re in town!


Chris Potter

Potter is truly a saxophonic beast. A master of the saxophone craft, his fluidity across ideas and lines is breathtaking. As a stylist, Potter has blended funk and bop in a manner unseen since the days of Michael Brecker.


Interested in jazz saxophone lessons in the Los Angles area or remotely? The Woodshed author Mike is now accepting students! Learn More >>

Donny McCaslin

A technical beast, Donny is able to get around the horn as well as anybody on the scene today. His latest writing is compositionally forward-thinking and has some great moments.

Will Vinson

Super under-rated, super saxophonist. I think he’s from London originally but now resides in NYC. With a beautiful, warm sound and sense of harmony, this guy really plays the alto!

Joshua Redman

I just recently saw Redman live, and I was again blown away. His sound has gone from full to slightly brittle over the last 15 or so years, but Josh will still develop ideas, squawk all over the axe, and pay homage to the history of the saxophone better than most anybody in the business. See Yaya3 to hear what I deem his best work ever.

Ravi Coltrane

Blah blah shadow of this dad (John Coltrane) blah. Ravi can PLAY. He’s got his own thing going on, and it comes to you with a complimentary side of buttery rich tone an pointed rhythmic angularity.

John Ellis

New Orleans sings through his essence, but Ellis is so much more. An abundance of soul comes through this guy’s horn.

Joel Frahm

Joel is somewhat underrated, but he’s a true master of the saxophone. I think of him as a more articulate, modern day Hank Mobley. He plays what you want to hear and then surprises you with perfectly packaged little nuggets of harmonic gold.

David Binney

Great saxophone player with an interesting, angular take on modern jazz.

David Sanchez

Extending his reach beyond his Puerto Rican roots, David [Dah-vEEd] has evolved into a rhythmically compelling improviser with one of the most succulent tones on the scene.

Rich Perry

Rich plays what he hears, plain and simple. And it’s a joy to see his imagination unfold.

Ralph Bowen

You might not be quite as hip to Ralph’s stuff as some of these other guys, but despite his post-Coltrane/Brecker tendencies, and despite the fact that he is completely still when he plays the horn, Ralph will blow your mind with his accuracy, harmonic vision, and ability to build a beautiful, exhilarating solo. Please, please check out this clip of Ralph building a stupidly good solo over a fast minor tune on Chicago pianist Jim Trompeter’s “Live at the Green Mill” (solo starts at 1:43).


Chad Lefkowitz-Brown

Who’s this youngster? Wait, is that the guy backing Taylor Swift? Yes. And Chad is the real deal. Check out Clarence Penn’s “Monk: the Lost Files,” and you’ll see for yourself. He’s definitely influenced by the likes of Donny McCaslin and Brecker, but he carries a heavy dose of Lefkowitz-Brown as well. Look out for this guy.

Tony Malaby

Tony is one of the most intuitive and adaptable musicians playing jazz today. Also one of the most chill.

Wayne Shorter

Wayne had to make this list, lest I live in constant fear for my saxophonic credibility. But he’s undoubtedly one of the best bandleaders today. Wayne’s gone just a bit beyond my comfort zone for tonal expansion at this point in his career, but if you can catch him live there are still moments of pure, mind-blowing Wayne.

Steve Coleman

He’s thinking about how to move the music forward, and for that we are grateful.

Geof Bradfield

Hailing from Chicago, Geof means business. At home in any context, from throwback to forward-looking, Bradfield displays supreme control, effortlessly soaring through the harmonic landscape throughout.

Casey Benjamin

Robert Glasper’s man is more than a vocoder. Casey gets down on some saxo-mo-phone.

Miguel Zenon

Apparently Miguel is a genius. The MacArthur grant definitely gave his popularity a bump, but he’s got a fantastic sense of rhythm, fast fingers, and a gorgeous sound to boot.

Bill McHenry

Bill has a sensibility that allows him to roam in both straight-ahead and farther-reaching scenarios.

Josh Johnson

This soon to be well-know recent grad of the Monk Institute plays so mush alto saxophone and with such grace.

Logan Richardson

Up and coming, I love what I’ve heard from him and need to dig into his stuff more.

Brice Winston

Terrence Blanchard has had this guy locked up for some time, but Brice is starting to spread his wings as of late: check out Child’s Play.

Branford Marsalis

I do love his Requiem late 90’s sound the best, but Branford still brings it.

Bob Mintzer

Bob doesn’t get nearly enough credit for developing the round tone and softer approach championed by so many of today’s saxophonists. And he can still burn through some mean post bop.

Dayna Stephens

Digging what Dayna has been throwing out recently.

Kenny Garrett

Ok, I’ll say it, Kenny used to be one of my absolute idols. Since the Pharoah Sanders era he’s let me down just a bit, as his albums sound relatively uninspired compared to the rhythmic and sonic beastliness he demonstrated on albums like Triology and Songbook. Real shame, since he’s an unbelievably gifted musician.

Marcus Strickland

Check out Marcus’ playing back

Tain’s “Detained …read more

300 Tunes to Know: Prioritized, Categorized, and Organized

Posted by on Jan 16, 2015 in Improvisation, Practice Tips

Tune Tracker

Tunes are our shared language. One of the most beautiful and unifying aspects of jazz is this common musical familiarity that enables any group of seasoned musicians to get together and immediately start making music. I’ll cover the pros and cons of learning tunes as well as the right approach to building a solid base of tunes in your arsenal. At the end I give a list of tunes to learn, separated out by their importance based on the frequency with which they get called at sessions/gigs.

Roy Hargrove: Playing “Out”

Posted by on Jan 6, 2015 in Harmony, Improvisation, Theory, Transcription, Trumpet


Say what you will about Roy Hargrove’s current lifestyle choices; the man has blown some serious trumpet in his day. Roy’s ability to effortlessly glide between playing “in” (playing notes that fit the harmony) and “out” (creating tension by playing notes that don’t fit) has always impressed me, so I recently decided to pick a few lines to analyze his various harmonic devices.

Although he released a slew of post bop material throughout the 90’s, I reached for his more groove-oriented stuff in order to cut to the core of his soulful harmonic concept. His solo over Rich Man’s Welfare off RH Factor’s “Strength” fit the bill nicely.


But First, A Few Observations

Before getting into the meat of the analysis, I want to note a few keys to Hargrove’s playing in this era that made it all work. His time is impeccable, he shapes his lines with clean, clear articulations, and his style is…well he really swings.

Even more pertinent to the the analysis of his harmonic concept when playing outside the changes, RH could play nearly perfect bop, meaning that his “inside” playing is really fantastic. When Hargrove wanted to lay down a line to outline the changes, it was his for the taking.

Now, on to the solo!


Excerpt 1

Let’s dig into 2 excerpts from his solo and try to see if we can figure out what he’s thinking. Roy opens by stating some great dorian minor and blues-infused lines. These are firmly rooted in the groove and harmony, and they are the wonderful “in” that make his out playing “out”.

In measure 6 (see transcription below), he starts to play against the Em (concert Dm) tonality. Roy first moves into a F7 concept (could also be C7), then chromatically wanders to end the line implying Eb. He then continues that Eb thought, then moves down another whole step to imply a Db7 in bar 8.

Bar 9 starts with a hint of returning to the Em6 sound, but then moves back out to a Eb major sound, but that could also be interpreted as an F7. The latter would make sense given the next line, which moves from Em quickly to F7(#11). Not sure what that line is at the end…

Excerpt 1: Audio & Transcription


Playing Over Half-Diminished

Posted by on Jan 2, 2015 in Harmony, Improvisation, Theory

When I was first exposed to the half-diminished chord, I was told to simply play the major scale a half-step up, thus giving me the proper chord-scale relationship. After giving a number of other approaches a shot in between with mixed success…

A Transcriber’s Evolution: Your Routine Should Grow With You

Posted by on Dec 31, 2014 in Improvisation, Practice Tips, Theory, Transcription


In case you didn’t already notice, this is a blog, thus I’m going to try to use an infographic to communicate an idea. Read below the graphic for more information.


As a saxophone player I’ve transcribed many, many saxophone solos. When you’re starting to learn jazz, transcription is one of the first pieces of advice you’ll receive: “Just transcribe a bunch of solos!” says random Joe jazz mentor/teacher.

But why do we transcribe?

And what is the best process? It can be tedious, but is the payoff to build your vocabulary, give your ear and notation skills a good workout, emulate the sound/style of one of your idols, to just figure out what the hell somebody is playing? Yes to all these things, but I’d argue that the value of transcription evolves as you develop as an improviser.

In the early stages of your foray into jazz improvisation, you can use transcription as a tool for starting to make the connection between the chord changes and the note choices an improviser makes. Knowing to play a C-major scale over a Cmaj7 is one thing, but understanding the standard language over a c-major within the jazz idiom takes a lot of listening and transcription.

As you become more fluent in the language of jazz, you will begin to understand most of what you are listening to without even writing it down. They are playing a language that you have spent many hours studying. Just as you don’t need to open your Spanish-English dictionary to know how to place an order at a coffee shop in Peru after studying 8 years of Spanish, you will begin to hear most of the lines and harmonic choices made by jazz musicians in real time. At this point, I generally use transcription to decode somebody’s harmonic and melodic language. That can be either taking a single line, or in select cases an entire solo, and figuring out what they were playing.

Stick to your instrument?

Many improvisers stick to their own instruments, and for good reason. Say you’re a sax player. In the early stages of your development, you will get the most out of a sax transcription. Your aim should be to learn the solo exactly as it was originally played, every inflection and detail should be copied.

However, as you evolve, you are getting less value out of the instrument-specific aspect of transcription and can draw more from the theoretical side. Look to other instruments to expand your range.

Aaron Goldberg over “One Finger Snap”

In that spirit, here’s a transcription of Aaron Goldberg on his contrafact “Head Trip” of Herbie’s “One Finger Snap”.

Aaron Goldberg – Head Trip – C



Currently Listening To Bud Powell, Time Waits


Marquis Hill – Live at the Whistler

Posted by on Nov 10, 2014 in Bootlegs, Chicago Scene, Trumpet

In honor of Chicago’s own Marquis Hill’s big win at the 2014 Thelonious Monk Trumpet Competition last night, here’s a bootleg iPhone recording I took of his group playing at The Whistler on 10/21/14. Crushing it.

Marquis Hill – Trumpet
Dustin Laurenzi – Tenor Sax
Stu Mindeman – Keys
Bryan Doherty – Bass
Makaya McCraven – Drums

Practice Ideas, Not Just Licks

Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in Improvisation, Practice Tips, Theory


I’ve been obsessed with harmony lately. Those of you who read my last analytical post on harmonic discipline might have guessed as much (yes, I still owe a follow-up to that post, and it’s coming soon!).  Specifically, I’ve been experimenting with ways to expand my harmonic vocabulary.


Transcription: a place to start

You know those points in a solo where one of your idols plays an interesting line, something a little unexpected (out), and you think to yourself, “that was cool, but what was it?!” Maybe you’ll go and transcribe that lick; motivated students of the music will probably learn it in all 12 keys, and now you have something cool and new to add to your improvisatory arsenal.


But are you really learning the idea or just the lick?

There’s a critical distinction between plugging in a line and going for an idea.

A lick is limiting: you know a sequence of notes that, in the right context, sound pretty cool. You’ll spend a ton of time learning a lick, then either forget to plug it into your solo or forget it altogether.

An idea is a springboard: you have absorbed the sound of the harmonic or rhythmic gesture you are going to play, and you can freely move in and out of that concept at will. It’s part of your vocabulary, something you have conviction in, and not just a soundbite you’ve memorized or a vocab card that your 9th grade English teacher tested you on (you crammed for the test, never applied the new vocab word in your writing or everyday speech, and thus promptly forgot the meaning of “mercurial” about 15 minutes after the test ended).


Using licks to expand your lexicon

Ok, enough with the lick-bashing. I’ve actually found that licks are a fantastic vehicle for bridging the gap between “holy crap, what did that guy play?!” and gaining complete mastery over a new harmonic or rhythmic idea.

Let’s walk through an example. I’ve been digging the sound of “sidestepping” up a minor third in minor keys: i.e. over a C-minor chord, moving back and forth between  Cm and Ebm. So, I sat for a minute and worked out a little line that gets me in, out, and back in again:

Now you could go home, steal my little lick, and have a nifty nugget to plug into your next solo. But that’s not the point. Remember the goal: to master the superimposition of the minor that’s a minor-third above the tonic.

Here’s what I’ve been doing to try to drive home this new concept:

  • Learn the lick (or better yet, create your own!)
  • Play it over and over, until you don’t have to think about it and can play the lick at max tempo while checking your Facebook news feed…
  • Mess with the lick: extend the harmonic sidestep with a few notes on either end, change up the rhythm, etc. Try to feel at home moving between Cm and Ebm.
  • Look for the “pivot points”. Looking only at the Cm and Ebm pentatonic, they share Eb & Bb, and Db to C and Gb to G are 1/2 steps apart. These are good points of departure or resolution for sidestepping.  My lick used the top Eb to get me back to Cm from Ebm.
  • Learn the original lick in all 12 keys. Remember, you want to learn the idea, and bringing it through various keys reinforces the sound in your ear while starting to give you the freedom to utilize your new idea at your leisure. Don’t write it out, think about the harmony you are implying.
  • Play around with the concept in all 12 keys. Become fluent in this idea by taking one key at a time and moving back and forth over the concept.
  • Test the idea in context. Find a tune to plug in your new vocabulary. I’ve been trying to work it into every minor landing point in Invitation. Not easy!
  • …read more

    Bootleg a Day #6: Tony Malaby live in Bogota, Colombia

    Posted by on Oct 2, 2014 in Bootlegs, Inspiration


    About 1 year ago Josh Moshier and I took our group to Bogota, Colombia with John Tate and Jeremy Cunningham. It was an unforgettable experience, and it just so happened that Tony Malaby was playing across town. I still remember how excited the Colombian jazz community was to check Tony out, and the crowd of young, energetic, slightly bohemian jazz fans enthusiastically embraced his exploratory performance. This clip captures one of the more beautiful, sensitive, and in-time moments of a memorable evening. I regrettably don’t know the names of the local rhythm section, but they really brought it.

    Through the wonders of YouTube, you can watch a full video of the show here: