If you — or your children — are learning to play instruments in the brass family, you’re in good company. Some of the world’s most famous musicians have blown horns in this popular subgroup; which includes the trumpet, trombone, French horn, tuba, cornet, and more.
Brass instruments are most commonly played in jazz, classical, and big band settings and they’re especially popular with young people and students who can participate in marching bands.
Take a look at some of the most famous brass players of all time, and how they marched their way to success.
1. Dennis Brain — French Horn
Brain is credited with bringing the French horn as a solo instrument to a global audience. Born to a family of horn players in London, Brain was destined for great things in the musical world of brass instruments. He joined the Central Band of the Royal Air Force and later toured the United States with the same musicians. Following World War II, Brain recorded Mozart horn concertos with the well-known Philharmonia Orchestra — these pieces are still considered the gold standard of such concertos.
2. Louis Armstrong — Trumpet
Even if you don’t play a brass instrument, you’ve likely heard of the great Louis Armstrong. His passion for the trumpet, paired with his technical mastery, brought this instrument into mainstream popular culture beginning in the 1920’s. Armstrong’s trumpet prowess became a cornerstone of the jazz era, and he is credited as an African-American who truly “crossed over” the racial divides of his time to land a spot in popular music. Even today, his recordings are the basis for reaching trumpet mastery in the eyes of students and brass musicians.
3. Joseph Alessi — Trombone
Best known for his current role as the Principal Trombone in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alessi has played the trombone for over 30 years. He grew up in San Francisco, and took to the trombone at an early age; even performing as a soloist with the San Francisco Orchestra while still a high school student. He then went on to study the trombone further in Philadelphia and perform for the orchestra there, and then in Montreal. Alessi has played with the New York Philharmonic since 1985.
4. Jean-Baptiste Arban — Cornet
Contemporary brass students know the work of Arban well, and a popular form of brass pedagogy even bears his namesake. Born in Lyon, France, he lived from 1825 to 1889 and studied trumpet at the Paris Conservatory. He later decided on the cornet as his instrument of choice, and went on to become the first cornet virtuoso ever. Inspired by friends playing other instruments, like the violin, Arban determined to take his own instrument to the same heights; and he succeeded. Brass players (and teachers) today still reference his “Trumpeter’s Bible” when learning to play.
5. Alison Balsom — Trumpet
At the age of 20, Balsom was a finalist for the Young Musician of the Year award — and it catapulted her to international success. In 2013, she won Artist of the Year at the Gramophone Awards; and she’s also earned three Classical BRITs and three Echo Klassik Awards. One of Balsom’s biggest claims to fame is her passion for bringing the excitement of classical music to a younger audience. She is one of the only classical musicians who appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, and has headlined many BBC televised concerts. In addition to playing, she also composes music and has invested much of her own earnings back into commissioning new works composed for her beloved instrument: the trumpet.
6. Oystein Baadsvik — Tuba
Hailing from Norway, Baadsvik has built a global following through YouTube videos of his performances. Oystein’s performance of the original tuba solo “Fnugg” has over 800,000 views, featuring interesting lip beats and phonics that make it fun both to listen to and to watch. He teaches tuba master classes all over the world, and is one of the most recognizable tuba players of all time.
Playing an instrument in the brass family is fun and exciting, from the football field to the orchestra hall. If you’re finding a brand new love for a brass instrument yourself, seek inspiration from those who have earned success playing in the brass family full time. We can learn a lot from these motivated, dedicated, and hardworking artists who have brought brass into the spotlight time, and time again.