Young in 2004. He continued to play in old age, despite profound deafness.
The jazz trumpeter Snooky Young, who has died aged 92, served during his long career with an array of great bands, including those of Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie, and his all-round prowess led him eventually to a successful studio career, including a 25-year sojourn with Doc Severinsen's NBC Tonight Show Band. The trumpeter Thad Jones, his Basie colleague and later a prominent bandleader himself, rated Young as "a fantastic first trumpet player. For me, he's the number one man."
Young's journey to such eminence began in his birthplace, Dayton, Ohio, where he tried the zither before he started to play the trumpet, aged six, taught by a former McKinney's Cotton Pickers musician. The third of eight children, all of whom played instruments, Snooky (a childhood nickname that stuck) was part of a family band led by his parents, the Young Snappy Six, that toured the south when Young was 12 with the Black and White Revue, became stranded and eventually crawled back to Dayton.
Although the trumpet was not his first choice of instrument, Young evidently showed such promise that by the age of seven, he was winning amateur talent contests playing and singing Louis Armstrong tracks. "A junk man gave me my first horn – a beat-up old cornet," he recalled.
Having worked during his high school years in local clubs with the vocalist Scatman Crothers and with the Wilberforce Collegians (although he never attended the college), Young went on to play with Chick Carter's excellent territory band. Among its personnel was the trumpeter Gerald Wilson who, having moved on to the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra, then among the best known African-American big bands of the day, told Lunceford about Young.
Barely 20 and newly married, Young found himself playing lead trumpet. "They made me the first trumpet player," he said. "And it worked. But I didn't have that in mind myself, whatsoever." Young's success in the role made his name, as did his brilliant playing on the band's hit recording of Uptown Blues and the ghosted solos he provided for the actor Jack Carson in the 1941 Warner Bros movie Blues in the Night.
After three years with Lunceford – and a dispute over pay – Young returned to Dayton but was soon back in the saddle with Basie, and then for a year with Lionel Hampton before playing in California with Les Hite and Benny Carter, Wilson alongside him in both bands. Having rejoined Basie in June 1943, he left after six months when Wilson, his lifelong chum, formed his own big band.
He was with Basie again from 1945 to 1947, when he "quit the road, went home and organised a seven-piece band" in which his sister played the piano and a brother the drums. They worked around the Dayton area for 10 years while Young concentrated on his family. He then succumbed to Basie's final offer and put down some roots, staying until 1962 and sharing in the band's exceptional rejuvenation, courtesy of the hit album The Atomic Mr Basie (1957), touring internationally, including in Britain, and collaborating with stars such as Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett and Billy Eckstine.
The trumpeter Clark Terry recommended Young to NBC in New York as a staff musician in 1962, a role that he performed with distinction while undertaking any number of freelance soundtrack and studio assignments, secure in the knowledge that his lead trumpet skills were always valued and, indeed, hard to match. He was in at the beginning of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, largely an outlet for studio-based musicians anxious to play jazz, and visited Britain with them in 1969. "This type of music keeps you fresh," he told Melody Maker. When the Johnny Carson Tonight Show relocated to Los Angeles, Young went with it and stayed, performing with the show's orchestra under Severinsen, also taking weekend show jobs and concerts with Severinsen in Las Vegas.
After the Tonight Show downsized its on-screen orchestra in 1992, Young concentrated on big band jobs with Wilson, the drummer Frankie Capp or the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, and on small group swing with the Cheathams' Sweet Baby Blues Band, also handling occasional overseas tours and playing festivals.
Originally an Armstrong follower, Young moved stylistically to incorporate something of Roy Eldridge's fire, spiced by a boppish touch or two, and was known for his rubber plunger-muted solos, eliciting all sorts of fearsome growls and shrieks, these somewhat at odds with his sunny nature. His albums for others were many. Those under his own name numbered just three, each revealing that he was far more than just a lead trumpeter, more a soloist who combined "exceptional imagination, taste and humour", according to one critic.
Although profoundly deaf in his latter years, Young continued to play. "If he could see the chart, follow the leader and feel the vibes in a trumpet section, he could – and did – play," said the writer Kirk Silsbee. Young summed up his career thus: "I enjoy playing all kinds of music. I'm proud of my reputation and happy when I get to play some jazz."
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; his daughters, Judy and Donna; a son, Danny; seven grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Another son predeceased him.
• Eugene Edward "Snooky" Young, jazz trumpeter, born 3 February 1919; died 11 May 2011