Instruments Used in Jazz Music

The trumpet is a popular instrument in jazz music.
Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images

Jazz music originated in New Orleans just after the start of the 20th century, and it has been wildly popular ever since. Over the last century, artists have included most instruments in a jazz composition at one time or another. However, the genre employs a limited number of instruments frequently, and their respective sounds are responsible for the hallmark personality of jazz music.


Few instruments dominate genres, songs and entire performance venues the way trumpets do. Their prevalence in the New Orleans band scene led to their inclusion in jazz, which is arguably the genre in which they have been most prominent and their players most successful. Prolific trumpeters fill the history pages of jazz. Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker are just a few of the notable instrumentalists associated with the small brass instrument. The trumpet has the capacity to be exceptionally loud and equally soft. It adjusts well to changes in tempo and mood, and it is capable of driving the rhythm of a song, despite its small size relative to other instruments.


Saxophones were not immediately popular in jazz but became a mainstay in the 1920s. The saxophone was easier to accurately record than larger, lower brass instruments like the tuba and trombone. The saxophone is a reed instrument and is therefore classified as a woodwind, but it is brass in composition and often imparts a sound that fits in perfectly with the brass section. The saxophone's duality is another reason it has swelled to such popularity, since it is perfectly suited to blend the two instrument groups. Before it became popular, the saxophone was more of a street and club instrument. Its addition to the standard orchestra is a recent development. John Coltrane, Stan Getz and Charlie Parker are some of jazz's most famous saxophonists.


While there are jazz arrangements that do not feature the piano, the genre would not be what it is without it. The piano and its modern derivative, the electric keyboard, are staples in nearly every musical genre due to the dexterity of a pianist's finger -- the speed at which they can play a melody, and the ease with which they can control the tempo and pitch. The instrument is invaluable to jazz -- a brand of music known for switching tempo, key and volume at whim. Pianists outnumber all other instrumentalists on any list of the greatest jazz musicians. Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Dave Brubeck are just some of the most notable jazz pianists.

Trombone and Clarinet

One quality that makes jazz so unique is its wide range of instrumental combinations. The lead musician dictates the arrangement of a jazz ensemble, and instruments that are not prominent in many, if any, other genres take center stage in jazz. The genre has a wealth of trombone arrangements, thanks to Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. The clarinet, a small woodwind instrument, is rarely the lead in up-tempo numbers, except in jazz, thanks to the contributions of bandleader Artie Shaw.