"Trumpet Player" describes a "Negro" trumpet player and the music he is producing while recognizing some of the influences and experiences that have shaped the man and his music. The poem, like the jazz that is coming from the instrument, is varied and unpredictable - long phrases mixed in among short thoughts, free-form and flowing without constrictions of rhyme or structured rhythm, connecting different sections with bridges of meaning and recurring significances.
The poem is respectful of the man, his history, and his music. His eyes reflect the "weariness" of the slaves and the beatings in the past. He has been forced to abandon part of himself and conform to society's expectations, reflected in the "head of vibrant hair tamed down, patent-leathered now until it gleams like a jet" which the speaker in the poem respects as if it were "a crown."
Although the player has had and continues to experience hard times, the overall poem is a salute to his triumph over these challenges. The sound coming from his trumpet "is honey mixed with liquid fire the rhythm...is ecstasy stilled from old desire" While there may be regrets or frustrations in the player's life, the music is an escape and a consolation when "trouble mellows to a golden note."