Bands/Musicians The Greatest Cornetists of All Time  

Ranker Music
803 votes 176 voters 4.7k views 57 items

List Rules The best cornet players in history. Vote up the greatest musicians of all time who play cornet.

The cornet is a key instrument to any jazz, blues, Dixieland, or soul ensemble. A member of the brass family, the cornet involves blowing air through a mouthpiece located at the top of the instrument. Like with any instrument, the cornet takes years to master. Who are the greatest cornetists of all time?
The musicians on this list are legends in the world of the cornet and many of them helped to forever shape jazz and blues music! While most cornetists gravitate towards the jazz style of music there are a number of other genres that feature the cornet as well!
This list features the all time greatest cornetists in history, ranked as the best according to the votes of music lovers. This list includes famous cornetists like Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, W. C. Handy, Nat Adderley, and Papa Celestin. Vote up the best cornet players below and see where the musicians you think are great rank!
list ordered by

57 21
Louis Armstrong is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Swing music, Traditional pop music, Jazz

43 16
Bix Beiderbecke is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
White jazz, Jazz, Dixieland

33 12
Nat Adderley is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Hard bop, Soul jazz

25 8
Bobby Hackett is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Tim La Marca added Swing music, Big band, Jazz

23 9
Joe King Oliver is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Joe King Oliver Jazz, Blues; Dixieland

23 10
Herbert L. Clarke is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Daniel Morris added

19 9
Wild Bill Davison is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Wild Bill Davison Jazz

16 7
Buddy Bolden is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Ragtime, Trad jazz, Jazz

15 7
Red Nichols is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time

16 8
Rex Stewart is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time

16 8
Warren Vache is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time

14 8
W. C. Handy is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Jazz, Blues

12 8
Don Cherry is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Andy Pandy added Kozmigroov, World fusion music, World music

9 6
Ruby Braff is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Daniel Morris added Swing music, Dixieland

9 8
James F. Burke is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Daniel Morris added James F. Burke

7 7
Freddie Keppard is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Jazz, Dixieland

6 6
Del Staigers is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Daniel Morris added Del Staigers   Charles Delaware "Del" Staigers was born on August 20, 1899 in Muncie, Indiana. His father was in the state of Delaware at the time of his birth and so he chose Delaware for his son's middle name. The kid didn't like the name much, but he was OK with "Del" and so the name stuck.        When Del was just six years old, he experienced his first great thrill, that of the Muncie Indiana Boys Band parading in their blue and red uniforms up Main Street. It was this experience that convinced him that he wanted to be a bandsman. With his mother's permission, he soon applied to Professor E.W.Garrett of the Muncie, Indiana Conservatory of Music. Professor Garrett rented the young lad a horn for 10 cents a week, and Del proceeded to drive his mother crazy with his constant practicing, to the point where she insisted that he do his practicing outdoors in a nearby empty lot. Undeterred, Del continued to work hard and two years later he occupied the first chair in the Muncie Boys' Band.        The following year he was dubbed "The Boy Wonder", performing his first solo at Winona Lake (Indiana Chautauqua). In 1912, he played his first professional engagement with the NHDVS Band in Dayton, Ohio. During that summer, he won a scholarship at Manlius School. In 1914, while playing in the Manlius Band, he attracted the attention of Patrick Conway who engaged Del to perform with Conway's Band the following summer at Willow Grove Park, just outside of Philadelphia.    Del's first appearance with Conway's Band was a memorable one. He sat down on the 3rd chair (1st Cornet) for which position he had been hired. Upon opening his book, he was surprised to find that the book was written for 1st Eb Trumpet. He somehow figured out that if he played everything a fourth higher, he would get through the gig alright, and he did. The following night, Mr.Conway walked over to where Del was sitting to ask him how he liked playing with the band. At the same time he was looking at Del's music and before Del had a chance to reply, Conway screamed "Where in the hell did you get that from??!!" Conway immediately went after his brother Mark, who was the band's librarian and a shouting match ensued, following which Del was given the proper 1st Bb Cornet book. Del understood this to be an important lesson and he resolved to learn all of the possible transpositions. Later, as a teacher, he professed that the art of transposition was just as important as keeping time, and he encouraged all of his students to follow this example.    In 1916 and 1917, Staigers was featured on the Keith and Orpheum Vaudeville Circuits. Then, in 1918 he was hired as assistant cornet soloist to the great Frank Simon for the Willow Grove Concerts with Sousa's Band. Staigers later recalled that his longest tour with Sousa lasted 42 consecutive weeks playing two concerts every day, and usually in two towns a day. He remained with Sousa through 1920.     Staigers then relocated to New York City where he became first trumpet at the New York Hippodrome and later, first trumpet at the Strand Theatre. Among the many musical shows in which he performed included the Ziegfield Follies. A few months later, he became first trumpeter with the Okeh phonograph company. During this time he also made records with various recording companies.    In the mid 1920's, Nathaniel "Nat" Shilkret formed the Victor Salon Orchestra and from 1926-1942, Del Staigers occupied the solo chair where he performed on numerous radio broadcasts and also made many recordings for the Victor Phonograph Company (also known as the Victor Talking Machine Company). It was during this time that Mr. Schilkret proclaimed to the members of the orchestra "Boys, I don't know what this 'radio thing' is going to be, but we might as well be on the inside if it does turn out to be anything". And so the members of the orchestra were formally introduced to thier new friend "Mike" (short for microphone).    In 1926, Dr. Edwin Franko Goldman was searching desparately for someone to replace his current cornet soloist (believed to be Waino Kauppi), who had suffered a nervous breakdown and was "ordered to the country to rest for a long time" by his doctor. Del Staigers was highly in demand by this time and therefore quite difficult to reach, but Goldman persevered and finally got Staigers to join the band. Del's first solo performance on the Mall in Central Park, New York was initially greeted with stunned silence, then followed by a wild standing ovation by a crowd of some 25,000 people. Through weekly broadcasts with The Goldman Band, Del became widely known and he gained a reputation as the world's pre-eminent cornet soloist.      When Staigers joined The Goldman Band, he had already penned several arrangements of cornet solos that in Staigers' opinion "were not good enough for a band as large as Goldman's" and so there were many nights Staigers stayed up until five o'clock in the morning rearranging these solos.       Staigers seemed to particularly enjoy the Bellstedt solos. "Napoli" and "Princess Alice" are two that he recorded with the Goldman Band along with his own arrangement of "The Carnival of Venice". Staigers recorded these solos in 1929-1930 along with Goldman's "My Heaven of Love" and they are now considered collectors items. He also composed and published "Hazel", a cornet solo dedicated to his wife (and also published as a duet) in 1929.     In 1932, the music world lost a giant with the death of John Phillip Sousa. Del Staigers realised his most touching moment when he was chosen to sound "Taps" over Sousa's grave. This was certainly a very special honor, especially  when you consider the talent that was available for the task at hand- Herbert L. Clarke, Ernest S. Williams, Frank Simon, Bohumir Kryl and Walter Rogers - all former Sousa soloists.     In the 1930's, America was in the middle of the Great Depression. Del Staigers was sought out by trumpet players and students from all over the country for lessons. On the one hand, it was great that he could be earning a decent living teaching all day long, but he was highly in demand as a performer and he just did not have time to accomadate so many students. So in 1933, Del published his "Modern and Progressive Correspondance Course for Cornet and Trumpet" along with his publication "The Arban - Staigers Complete Celebrated Method for Cornet and Trumpet" which was intended to be used in conjunction with his correspondance course. While the copyright was owned by Carl Fischer, these books were published by Staigers' own company.     On April 30, 1934 at the fifth Annual Convention of the American Bandmasters Association in Toronto, Canada, Del Staigers, along with Frank Simon and Walter M. Smith performed Herbert L. Clarke's "The Three Aces", a piece written expressly for this trio. (It is assumed that Mr. Clarke conducted this performance as well.) The piece called for each soloist to make a grand entrance while the band was playing a vivace passage. The band would stop after about five measures, and each soloist would in turn perform his most recognized cadenza. First, Staigers made his entrance and played the cadenza from his own arrangement of "The Carnival of Venice". Then Frank Simon made his entrance and played his cadenza from "Willow Echoes". Finally, Walter M. Smith entered and played his original cadenza from his book "41 Studies in Lip Flexibility" (The cadenza he played is the last exercise in the book). Clarke composed an extention to each cadenza as well as a simplified, alternate version. This performance must have been quite a spectacle with the world's greatest cornet soloists all performing together on the same stage. It certainly could be compared to a concert today by The Three Tenors, or any concert for that matter where three virtuosos come together for performance.   Staigers technique was legendary. He really was in a class by himself. Once, at a party and while quite drunk, he performed a very difficult cornet solo for some friends but with a unique approach. He turned his horn upside down so that the valves were pointed towards the ground. Then, using the backs of his fingers (essentially his knuckles) he floored his audience with an amazing performance.       While Staigers' drinking never seemed to affect his playing, Edwin Franko Goldman had become increasingly uncomfortable with it and in 1934 he made the difficult (and certainly unpopular) decision of firing Staigers. Finding a replacement was going to be difficult - if not impossible  - as Del had a huge following and his solos were often the highlight of the many concerts he performed with The Goldman Band. Despite his departure from the Goldman Band, Staigers remained highly in demand as a teacher and as a studio musician (a relatively new form of employment for musicians in those days). He was also a spokesman for the King Company, endorsing the King Liberty 2 Trumpet and the King Master Model Cornet.    In 1936 Staigers was working on a program on NBC called "Showboat". Lanny Ross was the singer and a fellow named "Captain Henry" was the so-called cornet soloist. But it was really Del Staigers doing all the playing behind the screen. It was on the set of this show where Staigers was introduced to a young cornetist named Jimmy Burke. The boy had the use of only his left arm and after a few lessons, Staigers set out to have the King Company build a cornet designed especially for Jimmy and left handed playing.        In 1940, Staigers was the first chair cornetist and soloist with the New York World's Fair Band under the direction of Eugene LaBarre, who was himself a well known cornetist. That year, Staigers published his cornet trio "The Three Stars". Then in 1942,Staigers returned briefly to The Goldman Band and the solo chair when it was vacated by the great Leonard B. Smith who, after six years as cornet soloist with Goldman, had enlisted in the United States Navy. Later that summer, Staigers relocated to Los Angeles, California and was replaced in Goldman's Band by none other than Jimmy Burke, beginning in the summer of 1943.    Del Staigers continued with a career in Hollywood as a studio musician for radio and movies, and he eventually won his battle with alcohol.     In 1946 he was featured on an introductory music course recording titled "Rusty In Orchestraville" where the tones of the musical instruments were made to speak and sing words in their own voices by means of SONOVOX, a method invented by Gilbert Wright. No human voices were used. Here, as "Tommy The Trumpet" he performs a bit of yet another arrangement of The Carnival of Venice played with typical Staigers flair.     Staigers is credited with 45 jazz recording sessions on Tom Lord's "Jazz Discography", recording with "The Virginians", "Johnny Hamp and His Orchestra" and various other groups. He also made some recordings that were released only in Australia. Staigers professed that a trumpet player should always strive to become a "business player", accepting any and all types of employment in order to become more well - rounded.     In 1950 he authored an excellent book - "Flexibility Studies" and "Technical Drills" in two parts. Published by Carl Fischer, the first book is comprised of 35 flexibility studies and 14 technical drills, while the second book is comprised of 60 technical drills for finger flexibility.      Del Staigers died at his home in North Hollywood and was interred at the Hollywood Memorial Cemetary (aka Hollywood Forever) in Hollywood, California. The cemetary is well known for its population of movie stars interred there. On July 28, 1950 after hearing of his death, Leonard B. Smith paid tribute to his friend with an outstanding performance of Staigers' arrangement of "The Carnival of Venice" with The Belle Island Concert Band. The performance was broadcast live on radio and Smith deservedly received a huge round of applause.      Now, more than 60 years after his death, Del Staigers remains one of the most accomplished, brilliant and thrilling cornet soloists America (and the world) has ever produced. His arrangement of "The Carnival of Venice" is considered by many to be a masterpiece and is one of the most performed solos by trumpet soloists all over the world today. He brought trumpet and cornet playing to a higher level and he remains a giant in American Band history. 

5 5
James Bubber Miley is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
James Bubber Miley Dixieland

1 1
Edmond Hall is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Kevin Gautier added Swing music, Dixieland

7 8
Connie Jones is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Connie Jones Jazz, Blues; Dixieland

5 6
Ray Nance is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Daniel Morris added Jazz

4 6
Doc Evans is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Doc Evans Jazz

4 6
Ed Allen is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Ed Allen Jazz

3 5
Butch Morris is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Butch Morris Jazz, Blues; Dixieland

0 2
Ken Davern is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Cornetists of All Time
Kevin Gautier added Ken Davern