In 1994, I had the privilege of conducting three interviews with the magisterial flugelhornist Art Farmer on WKCR, one during a quintet engagement at Sweet Basil on which he shared the front line with Jerome Richardson (Clifford Jordan had recently passed), and was promoting a two-trumpet recording with Tom Harrell on Arabesque, followed a pair of 5-hour Sunday Jazz Profiles where he was present for the entirety. In honor of the 84th anniversary of Mr. Farmer’s birth, I’m posting the complete transcripts of the interviews.
* * *
Art Farmer (WKCR, 11-27-94, 12-18-94):
[MUSIC: Jazztet (1961), “Farmer’s Market”; (1993) “Turn Out The Stars,” (1992) “Modulations”, (1991) “Isfahan”; (1953) w/ Clifford Brown, “Keeping Up with Jonesy”, (1953), w/ Sonny Rollins “I’ll Take Romance”, (1954) w/Gigi Gryce, “Blue Concept”]
TP: You’re originally from Iowa, and grew up in Arizona. What were your earliest musical experiences like?
AF: I started off studying the piano, because that’s the first instrument that I ever heard. My mother used to play the piano with her father’s church choir. At that time it was very customary to have a piano in the house, and someone played it. There were a lot of music students in our family, and it just seemed the natural thing to take piano lessons. Then after that, when we were living in Phoenix, Arizona, a man gave me a violin, and I studied that for a couple of years. Then I switched from the violin to the bass tuba. I was playing with a marching band that was part of a church organization in Phoenix. I heard some of the older guys in the band jamming around one day, and I wanted to play a horn, like I said, but the only horn available was the tuba. Then the War started.
TP: So by this time you were 12 or 13…
AF: Yes, about that.
TP: …and sort of going between the violin and the brass instruments.
AF: Yes, right.
TP: Who taught you? Did you get instruction in some sort of organization, or private teachers?
AF: I had a teacher for the violin, who was employed by what then was called the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, to see that everybody had a job in the United States. That’s the only teacher that I had. I also had a teacher on the piano who was employed by the school system out in Phoenix. So teaching was rather scant, I would have to say.
TP: So you got your experience basically picking up from other people and playing in different situations?
AF: Right, picking up from other people. Well, Jazz was on the radio. There was a lot of airplay for Jazz then, big bands playing for dances, and all kinds of wonderful things happening. The first live music that I heard actually was the real Country Blues. I used to sell papers, and I would walk around in the migrant workers’ camps and sell them papers, and after work they would be sitting around, playing and singing, playing the Blues on the guitar or whatever.
But I heard all this Big Band Jazz on the radio. Then when the Second World War came along, there was an Army camp around Phoenix, and I heard the Army dance band. There was one guy in the band by the name of George Kelly, who is still around here in New York, and he used to come around to our rehearsals and help us out. He was a great guy. He used to write arrangements for us. But that’s the first time I heard a big band live, was the U.S. Army band. Then the traveling dance bands started coming through on one-nighters, like Jimmie Lunceford and Erskine Hawkins, Buddy Johnson, people like that. The greatest thing in life that I could imagine was to hear these bands. It was so exciting that it never has left me. My brother, Addison, myself and our friends, we would go around and introduce ourselves to the musicians, and ask them to come by the house to have a jam session — and they were very nice, and they would.
TP: Your brother, Addison Farmer, was your identical twin and a bass player.
TP: Was he pretty proficient at this time also?
AF: Well, he was, but at this time he really hadn’t gotten into it as much as I had.
TP: I think you mentioned Roy Eldridge particularly as turning you around.
AF: Right. Well, Roy came to town with the Artie Shaw Band, and I met him then, and I have to say he was really very kind. He came by the place that I was playing on a night off, and he sat in and played the drums. Then after about a set of that, he went back to his room and got his horn, and came around and played. I didn’t know anything to ask him, really; it was just sort of a listening thing.
TP: Now, you said he came by where you were playing. By this time were you working locally around Phoenix?
AF: Yes, I was. I was working with some friends of mine at a place that was the kind of place that we would then call a bucket of blood, heh-heh, sort of a rough place. But that’s all the town had to offer. We were frankly very ignorant about what was going on with music, didn’t know left from right or 3/4 from 2/4, but we knew that we liked music and we knew that we wanted to play, and I guess that’s what Roy heard. So he was gracious enough to come up and play the drums, because he was a drummer also, and he enjoyed the situation enough to go back to his room and get his horn.
TP: Would you be playing mostly Blues at this time?
AF: Yes, mostly Blues, very simple riffs, riff-type tunes based on “I Got Rhythm” or “Honeysuckle Rose,” something like that.
TP: And at this time you would have been 15 years old, let’s say?
AF: Yes, around 15 or 16.
TP: Who were some of the trumpet players who were shaping your idea of how the trumpet should sound?
AF: Well, the most dominant trumpet player that you would hear in a small town like Phoenix then would be Harry James, because he was on the air all the time. Harry James was a very fine trumpeter. Of course, his style was much different from what really grabbed me later on. But at that time, why, he was the man. Even Miles said when he started trying to play, he was captivated by Harry James.
TP: When you heard Roy Eldridge over the air, that grabbed you?
AF: Oh, sure. Certainly. Then later on, I heard other people when the bands came through, say, Erskine Hawkins, where there was a trumpet player named Dud Bascomb who took a solo on a very successful record called “Tuxedo Junction.” Also there were other fantastic trumpet players with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, like Freddie Webster, for instance.
TP: Andy Kirk for a brief moment had Howard McGhee and Fats Navarro in his band. Did they ever come through Phoenix when you were there?
AF: No. They never came through Phoenix.
TP: So you didn’t have a chance to hear them right away.
AF: No, they never came through Phoenix, nor did Billy Eckstine. A lot of bands didn’t come through Phoenix. Phoenix was relatively a small town. Billy Eckstine never came through, Earl Hines never came through, Duke Ellington never came through, nor Count Basie. But I certainly remember the ones that did come through. When I heard Jimmie Lunceford’s trumpet section, well, I knew what my life was going to be instantly.
TP: Why is that? What was the sound of that trumpet section like in person, up close?
AF: Well, if you’ve only been playing trumpet just by yourself, and suddenly you hear four guys that are really playing a nice arrangement, then it’s such a big difference. It’s like a revelation. You hear the trumpet players playing their solo with the band in the background; well then, that sort of shows the way to you.
TP: When you were 16 or 17 years old, you and your brother went to Los Angeles and finished your last year of high school there.
AF: Yes. We actually went there supposedly on a vacation. We had had our little day jobs and saved our money, and we went over to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks. But the music scene was so alive on Central Avenue in Los Angeles, and we heard so many people, it just seemed senseless to go back to Arizona. So we decided to stay there and finish our high school there, and support ourselves by whatever means were possible.
TP: Did you have family in Los Angeles?
AF: No, we didn’t. We didn’t have any family there. But the school didn’t know that. Our mother told us, “Well, if this is what you really want to do, go ahead and do it, but at least graduate from school.” So we did. And we wrote our own excuses and things, so the school never knew. If we didn’t want to go to school, we would just write an excuse supposedly from our parents, which was accepted by Jefferson High School.
Now, there were some teachers that were very helpful to us — music teachers. There was one man in particular by the name of Samuel Brown, who also taught Dexter Gordon. Because Dexter went to the same school, although he was a few years in front of us.
TP: What was Mister Brown like as a teacher?
AF: Well, anyone who came to town that he knew, he would ask them to come over and play some, and talk to the students, and that would be the students’ first time able to talk to real professional musicians. He organized what is now called a stage band, and we would go around and play assemblies in other schools in the Los Angeles area.
TP: What sort of repertoire were you playing?
AF: Well, it was a repertoire with, for example, “9:20 Special” written by Buck Clayton, and “Take The A Train,” and something by Woody Herman.
TP: Dance band things.
AF: Yes. Dance band things that were popularized by the big bands. It was mainly big bands, because there were also people in the school orchestra who were already writing arrangements.
TP: Like who?
AF: Well, I can’t remember the names right, because this was a long time ago. Besides Dexter, some of the other active players were people like Sonny Criss and Cecil McNeely, who later turned out to be a great Rock Star by the name of Big Jay McNeely. Hampton Hawes was around. I figured that I should have been there a long time before I was. I got there for my last year. If I’d been there two or three years earlier, it would have been a lot of help.
TP: Was Samuel Brown helpful to you in developing your brass technique?
AF: No, he wasn’t a brass teacher at all. I didn’t have a brass teacher. I had never had a brass teacher up to this point. Up to then, I was just sort of hit and miss. Mostly miss. Trial-and-error.
TP: There was another teacher in Los Angeles, Lloyd Reese, who taught privately…
AF: Yes, I heard about Lloyd Reese, but I never went to him. Lloyd Reese was a professional teacher, and you had to pay him, and I didn’t have any money to take lessons.
TP: You arrived in Los Angeles at the time Bebop was first starting. Howard McGhee was out there and…
AF: That’s right. That’s the first time I heard Howard, and Howard with his group was really a revelation to me. That sort of pointed me in the direction for my life. He was moving around on the horn more than the usual soloists in the big bands. They were playing what were then called ride solos, where you’d just sort of Jazz the melody, and you don’t actually move around the horn that much. That’s what most of the guys were doing when the solo time came. Players like Dud Bascomb and Ray Nance came along and created their own things, and they were so interesting and beautiful. But then Howard came along, and he was much more fluid than them. Much more. I heard Howard McGhee’s group before Dizzy and Bird came out, so that was the first so-called Bop group that I heard. They had a wonderful tenor player named Teddy Edwards in there, who became a close friend of mine. We worked together later on. I didn’t meet Howard, but I used to go out and listen to them play every night. I was amazed at the way he was able to play the instrument, because I hadn’t heard Dizzy or Miles or Fats or Kenny Dorham at that time. He was the first one that I heard who could get around the horn like that.
TP: Who were some of the other players in Los Angeles who impressed you?
AF: At this time, I don’t remember any local trumpet player that impressed me anywhere like Howard did, and then, shortly after that, when Dizzy came out with his group.
TP: And did you go to Billy Berg’s to hear the band?
AF: Yes, I’d go there, and when I was able to get in, I’d get in. Sometimes someone was on the door who said, “Well, you don’t look like you’re old enough,” so I couldn’t get in. Then Miles came out with Benny Carter’s band, and I met him; we used to wind up at jam sessions together, and I would get a chance to listen to him. I used to go around with Charlie Parker, too. I wouldn’t play, but I would just listen. A tenor saxophone player that became very influential in my life, Wardell Gray, came out there with Earl Hines’ band; I went around and met him — later on we wound up working together. Wardell was a very nice man, a very intelligent man, and it was really a tragedy, not only to him, but to all of us who knew him, to have lost him at such an early age. He was very kind and very helpful, and I was very glad for the chance to work with him, and also with Dexter at this time, because the two of them organized a group, and we worked around the Los Angeles area.
TP: What other work did you get in Los Angeles at this time?
AF: I worked for a group that was led by a drummer by the name of Roy Porter, who used to work with Howard McGhee.
TP: Roy Porter had a big band, too.
AF: Yes, he had a big band, and actually we did some recording for the Savoy label with this big band. Eric Dolphy was in that band. Also I worked with a big band that was led by Horace Henderson, Fletcher Henderson’s brother.
TP: Horace Henderson was supposed to be very adept at organizing a band and getting a good band sound.
AF: Right. Well, that worked. He had a very fine swing style trumpeter by the name of Emmett Berry. Emmett could play. Emmett gave me some tips and some pointers. Still I had never had a trumpet lesson.
TP: How much Bebop were you able to play as a youngster in Los Angeles?
AF: I would say not very much. [LAUGHS] I was mostly captivated by it. But see, playing Bebop is not the easiest thing that you can find to do! [LAUGHS]
TP: It sounds like you had a lot of the new ideas in your mind while you were playing gigs that required other things from you.
AF: Well, Bebop came out of the Swing Era.
TP: Talk a little bit about that.
AF: Well, everybody that was involved with Bebop, as far as I know, the main guys played with the big bands. I mean, Miles and Dizzy and Max Roach and J.J. Johnson, all did, and Dexter Gordon — all these guys came out of big bands. Where else would they come from?
TP: And because of World War Two, there were openings for young musicians in those bands.
AF: Right, there were. There were openings for guys of my age. The older, more proficient players were mostly in the Armed Forces.
TP: Los Angeles was a thriving musical community at this time, with clubs everywhere and lots of work for musicians.
AF: Yes, there were a lot of clubs.
TP: Talk about what an average night might be like on the Central Avenue strip.
AF: Well, you could just walk up the street and go from one club to the other. Within an area of about 20 blocks there would be like five or six clubs. These clubs were forced to close by one o’clock because of wartime restrictions, but then there were some other clubs that would open up. I don’t think they were quite legal, but they got away with it some way. They would open up when the first clubs closed, and they would stay open until maybe six or seven o’clock in the morning.
TP: Were there places that had breakfast dances also?
AF: Yes. But these places were called breakfast clubs. There wasn’t a lot of dancing going on at these clubs, but there was an audience there for listening at this time. There was no big play on it from the press. No Jazz Critics ever came around, and you never read about it in Downbeat or nothing like that. But the players came around, and after they had finished their big band gigs, their dance gigs, why, then, they came over and sat in and played.
TP: That was sort of graduate school for a lot of musicians at that time.
AF: Yes, it was. Graduate school, that’s what I would call it.
TP: When did you first go to New York?
AF: I first came to New York in 1946 with a band that was led by a drummer by the name of Johnny Otis, who had a big band that was working on Central Avenue. The band was patterned after the Count Basie Orchestra. In fact, Count Basie used to send us some arrangements that he didn’t want to play. It was a good band, a straight-ahead Swing band. The tenor player Paul Quinichette was in the band. I was able to get the job with Johnny Otis, because some of the people who had been playing with the Otis band didn’t want to travel. That gave me a chance, and I came with them to New York.
TP: How long were you here?
AF: Well, I was here that time for a couple of weeks. We were on tour, and we played a place in Chicago called the El Grotto which was owned by Earl Hines. We played there for about ten weeks. Then we played at the Apollo Theater for a week, and then we played the Paradise Theater in Detroit for about week — and then Johnny Otis fired me.
TP: Was this your first time seeing the country?
AF: Yes, it was my first time.
TP: What was Chicago like then?
AF: Oh, that was great. The El Grotto was very nice. Such a nice club, with a chorus line and showgirls and comedians. It was really a nightclub, which there is nothing like that now. It was a big show.
TP: Chicago had a number of clubs with elaborate shows then.
TP: Did you get around in Chicago? Is that where you met Gene Ammons, let’s say?
AF: No. Gene was on the road with Billy Eckstine at that time. I didn’t meet Gene until I recorded with him for Prestige in the Fifties.
TP: What was your first impression of New York?
AF: Oh, New York was a great place. It was another city compared to now — completely different. But there was a lot of music going on, and music was all around the town.
TP: Where did you go to jam? I’m assuming that you did.
AF: Well, no, I didn’t go to jam at that time. I would go to listen. I went down to, like, 52nd Street, and to Minton’s up in Harlem. This is after the job. We were playing at the Apollo Theater, and our last show would be finished close to midnight, and so then we would go out to other places — like I said, 52nd Street or Minton’s.
TP: And you heard everybody who was creating the new music at that time.
AF: Well, everybody was on the Street.
[MUSIC: AF w/G. Russell, “Ballad of Hix Blewitt”, “Concerto For Billy The Kid” (1956); AF w/H. McKusick, “Alone Together” (1957); AF w/Horace, “Home Cookin'” (1956); AF/Jaymac/S.Clark, “Sippin’ At Bells” (1958); AF/Gerry Mulligan, “Blueport” (1958), AF/H. Jones, “Nita” (1958)]
TP: In our last conversation segment, Art Farmer was on his first trip on the road with Johnny Otis, when he worked in Chicago and New York for the first time. But basically, I gather you stayed in Los Angeles pretty much until joining the Lionel Hampton band in the early Fifties?
AF: Yes. You see, there was an institution called the Sunday afternoon jam sessions, which happened in Los Angeles and New York and other places, too. I used to go around to these clubs for the jam sessions, and one Sunday I went there, and there were some guys from Lionel’s band. Quincy was there, Buster Cooper was there, for instance. A couple of days later I got a call from a friend of mine, saying that he was going over to talk to Lionel, that Lionel wanted him to make an audition, and he had heard about me and would like for me to make an audition, too. I think Quincy had something to do with it, really. So I went over there, and the audition wasn’t to see how well you read the music or played the parts, but to see how well you could play in general. He said, “Okay, let’s play ‘All God’s Children Got Rhythm,'” which is a real testing tune for young players. So I did it, and then he said, “Yes, well, if you want the job, you’ve got it,” and that was it.
TP: What was the salary?
AF: Oh, it was around $17 or $18 a night when you played. [LAUGHS]
TP: When did Clifford Brown come into the picture?
AF: Clifford came in about a year later — less than a year later, because I was there only a year myself. When I came in, Benny Bailey was still there. The reason why Lionel Hampton hired me was because a very great trumpet player by the name of Benny Bailey was getting ready to leave. So when I came in the band, I was the sixth trumpet player, and then Benny left, so I was the fifth. Then there was a guy named the Whistler, who was called the Whistler because all he played was high notes all night long, and he left, and Brownie took his place. It was, say, in the summer of ’53 when we were playing in New York at a place called the Band-Box, and we were getting ready to go on a tour over in Europe, where we made all those records. Gigi Gryce had come in the band, and James Cleveland, and Alan Dawson also…
TP: What was your immediate impression of Clifford Brown?
TP: I know it’s sort of a softball question, but…
AF: Yeah, that’s really… [LAUGHS] Everybody had the same impression of Clifford Brown. The nicest impression was what Louis Armstrong said, “It sounds like you got a mouthful of hot rice.” [LAUGHS]
TP: But you were up next to him every night, I guess, for a number of months.
TP: Did that have an impact on your conception?
AF: Yes, it did. I would say that from the standpoint of style we both came from the same inspiration, which was Fats Navarro. But Clifford was much more proficient than I was, and he was able to do what I really wanted to do, and he could do it perfectly, and be completely relaxed and creative, and improvise. He was just wonderful. There were a whole lot of people that wanted to do the same thing, like Idrees Sulieman, for instance, Ray Copeland, and other people, too. We all said, “Well, this is the guy who really got it together.”
TP: Did your proximity to Clifford in any way inspire you to work out a niche for yourself, a certain sound that nobody else would get to, such as what, making a rough analogy, Miles Davis faced with Dizzy Gillespie?
AF: No, it really didn’t. It just inspired me to get the best sound that I could get. I certainly loved Brownie and Fats, and Ioved a whole lot of trumpet players, and still do. A lot of younger guys, the guys like Brownie and Fats and Miles, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, you’d listen to these guys, and you’re not going to say, “Well, if I could just sound like that, I’d be happy for the rest of my life.” I would say, “Well, if I could just sound as good as that, and then whatever came out that I figured sounded as good or sounded nearly as good, at least I’d figure like I was pointed in the right direction.
TP: Back to your experience with Roy Porter, a caller was interested in your having known Eric Dolphy as a very young musician.
AF: We were very good friends. Eric was the same way with Charlie Parker as I was with the leading trumpet stylists at that time. If you listened to him, you could tell immediately that he loved Charlie Parker. But the difference between Eric and Charlie Parker was that Eric… Eric was more like John Coltrane. He lived for the saxophone. That’s all he thought about, was the saxophone all the time, all the time, and whatever he could do. The first inkling I had that he was going in another direction than just playing Bebop was that he started imitating the sounds of birds. He’d listen to birds, listen to what the birds sing, and then go home and play it on the horn. That was happening when I was still living out there, before I left Los Angeles with Lionel Hampton in the Fall of 1952. But even then, he was consumed by music.
TP: By the way, did you encounter Ornette Coleman at all in Los Angeles?
AF: Yes, Ornette came on the scene while I was still there. We didn’t think much of him, because he would get up on the stand at a jam session, and he would play, like, licks that were associated with Charlie Parker, but he would play them in the wrong place. He had a hair style that made us call him “Nature Boy.” There was a tune called “Nature Boy” written by Eben Ahbez, and we called Ornette “Nature Boy.” We really didn’t realize the contribution that he was going to make to the music — which he made a great contribution. At that time, when he would get up on the stand, a whole lot of guys would leave the stand.
TP: You mentioned taking the music beyond Bebop, and indeed, when you came to New York in the mid 1950’s you were associated with a lot of composers who were involved in stretching the form somewhat.
AF: Well, when I came to New York after I’d left Lionel, and settled down here, then for some reason I got a reputation as a guy that was willing to really try to play people’s music, no matter what it was. There were a lot of people that were not playing Bebop at that time. Well, not a lot, but there was George Russell, Teddy Charles, for instance, and they would call me when they had a gig or something to do. And I would give the music my best shot, and take it home, and study it. There were some guys that just didn’t care that much about it. So that was the start of my reputation around there.
TP: That must have kind of a mind-bender for you, and certainly must have taken you to a lot of interesting places.
AF: Yes. Well, I wound up in some interesting places, like playing a concert with the New York Philharmonic of a concerto that was composed by Teo Macero, who later on wound up to be main record producer of Miles Davis. He wrote this symphony called “Fusion” that was to be performed by a symphonic orchestra with a Jazz group. So those were the kind of things that were happening. We played things by creative composers who were not completely in the Jazz idiom, but were using it as best they could, at the same time using their Classical background. This is not to say that I was a Classical player by any means, but still, it was just a matter of being the guy around town that could sort of straddle the ditch.
TP: Now, you said that let’s say up to 1950 or so, you hadn’t had a brass teacher. By this time had you been getting some formal tuition?
AF: Yes, I had by then. After I came to New York with Johnny Otis, and my deficiencies came to the front, and he wound up firing me, and I decided to stay in New York and get some professional help. I worked around here for a couple of years as a janitor in the theaters, and at that time I studied with a teacher by the name of Maurice Grupp. He didn’t have anything to do with Jazz at all. But I started taking lessons with him every week, and practiced every day, and at night-time I would go to 52nd Street and listen to the guys who were doing it. I was supposed to be on my job at 12 o’clock. Sometimes I was late, because I was busy listening to Miles and Dizzy, etcetera. I used to work at Radio City Music Hall and a place called the Criterion Theater, and other places like that, cleaning up, because that was the only way that I could stay here and study.
TP: You did what a lot of artists do when they’re organizing themselves in their earlier years.
AF: Well, sure. You’re glad to have the opportunity to do it anyway, any way you can. I remember some nights I would be late getting to my job because I just couldn’t leave the Street.
TP: After leaving the Hampton band, you began working around New York with fellow band-member Gigi Gryce for several years.
TP: Talk about the formation of that group and its evolution.
AF: Well, after leaving the Hampton band, I was able to get some jobs because I had recorded a tune that was subsequently named “Farmer’s Market” out in California with Wardell Gray. Ira Gitler gave the tune its name.
TP: What was your name for the tune?
AF: I didn’t have a name for it! So Ira decided to call it “Farmer’s Market,” which he did me a great favor. So I came back here, and went over to the Prestige company, and introduced myself to Bob Weinstock, who was the owner of the company. I said, “I’m Arthur Farmer.” He said, “Oh yes, you’re Art Farmer. You’re the guy who made that record with Wardell Gray.”
TP: No wonder you’re sick of that one song!
TP: Gigi Gryce himself was a very ambitious composer.
AF: Yes. Gigi was a great composer, a great arranger, and a great saxophone player, and he’s one of the people that we lost too early. The music has lost a lot because he wasn’t around. He was from the generation of Quincy and myself, and his contribution was lost, other than a very few things that he did for me, and, oh, yes, he had a group with Donald Byrd, but this didn’t show his full capacity as a player or a writer. If he had just been able to hang on a bit longer, then I think he would have had a great influence on the music. Just like Freddie Webster; I think he would have had a great influence on the music if he had been able to hang around longer. Some people just leave too early.
TP: You did some wonderful recordings with George Russell. How did your relationship with him begin?
AF: Well, it was during a time when I was in the studio with anybody who figured that they had something unusually difficult to be played, and they would call me. I met George at a record date with either Hal McKusick or Teddy Charles, and after that, when he decided to do his own record, well, he called me. After that I studied with George for some time, and still he is one of the greatest factors in my playing.
TP: Would you be a little more specific about the applicability of his ideas?
AF: Well, it’s a matter of being able to use the harmonic form in a certain way that you always know where you are and you know how to handle yourself. There’s no point to go into musical terms about it, because I’m not speaking to musicians at this time.
TP: Later in the Fifties you worked with Gerry Mulligan in a group that stretched form in a lot of different ways.
AF: Oh, yes. That was a very important time for me, and a very important occasion. I learned a lot working with Gerry. Just before I worked with Gerry, I had worked with Horace Silver, and Horace is a very dominant pianist. When you’re playing with a group that Horace is in, well, then, you have to respond to what he’s doing. There’s no way you can ignore him! [LAUGHS] Anyway, I went from Horace’s group to Gerry’s group. Well, we probably had a couple of weeks’ rehearsal before we went to work, and then I remember the first night that we worked was at a place in Westbury, Long Island, called the Cork and Bib. We got up on the stand and we played, and I felt like I was up there with no clothes on. Because I didn’t hear Horace’s piano. I didn’t hear any piano. I just heard this baritone saxophone and the bass violin behind me. It was a completely different environment. But it worked out.
TP: Had you heard his pianoless quartet back in Los Angeles in the early Fifties?
AF: No, I didn’t hear it there. The first time I heard it, actually, I think I was in Philadelphia, working with Lionel Hampton, and I went to a club, and he had the quartet. Chet had left by then, and Bobby Brookmeyer was with the group. And it sounded comfortable, it sounded musically interesting, but it wasn’t the thing that I was really pointing towards. It was a little bit too laid back for me at that time, and I wanted to bash.
TP: Well, the group with Gerry Mulligan that you were in sounds less laid-back than those earlier groups.
AF: Yes. It sounds less laid-back, and I guess that’s what I brought into it.
[MUSIC: AF 5, “The Touch Of Your Lips” (1958), “The Very Thought Of You”, AF Tentet, “Nica’s Dream” (1959), “April In Paris” (1959), AF 5, “Mox Nix” (1958); AF/B. Golson, “Five Spot After Dark” (1959)]
TP: Benny Golson had his hand in that last set quite a bit.
TP: Your musical lives, careers, and I guess personal lives have been intertwined now for about thirty-five, almost forty years.
AF: Yes. Well, Benny is one of my musical brothers, and we love each other dearly. I don’t know where I would be without his tunes.
The first time that we met was with Lionel’s band. Benny was there for a short time, but then he decided that he didn’t want to stay with the band. He’s told me many times after that he was really sorry that he didn’t, because this was the band that had his good buddies Clifford Brown and Gigi Gryce and Alan Dawson, James Cleveland and people like that in it.
TP: When that band got going, it must have been a real powerhouse.
AF: Well, it was a musical band, when the music called for it, and when the music called for entertainment, it could do that, too. Lionel is a great musician and he is also a great entertainer, and some people who would be unable to absorb, to appreciate the musical side of it, could appreciate the entertainment side of it.
TP: I guess you’ve played with a lot of bands like that, and indeed, that was the situation for many musicians of your generation, to get their functional experience and make a living. That was sort of the side of the music you had to deal with.
AF: Yes, you had to deal with it somewhere. But being a trumpet player, about the most entertaining thing I would say that we did, we would just march through the hall. Actually, when we were playing at the Band-Box, which was next door to Birdland, I remember one night, Lionel marched us out in the middle of the street, and stopped the traffic, and then he was going to march us downstairs into Birdland. Billy Eckstine was singing there. The doorman held up his hand and wouldn’t let us go in.
TP: What did Benny Golson sound like in the early Fifties? Was his sound already formed at that point?
AF: I think his sound was formed at that point. I don’t think that he had found his own unique identity, but he was very much influenced by Don Byas, I think. Not that he was playing the things that Don Byas played, but it was just that type of playing.
TP: Were you aware of his writing at that time?
AF: At that time, no. When I first him, I was not aware of his writing at all. The first time that I became aware of his writing was when I heard Miles Davis’ recording of “Stablemates,” which I think may have been the first one of his pieces that was recorded.
TP: What are the distinctive aspects of his writing that suit you so, his characteristics as an arranger?
AF: Well, the thing that really attracted me to Benny was the warmth of his ensemble writing. That was one of the things that you could hear in the Jazztet. With three horns you could get a certain depth that you couldn’t get with two horns. Nobody was writing for three horns until Benny came along and started writing for the Jazztet; other than him you’d have to go all the way back to John Kirby, whose group was in existence in the late Thirties into the mid-Forties – after that it was all two horns and a lot of unison writing for two horns.
I’m just thinking of Benny now as an arranger. As a composer, why, he was able to write melodies that sounded like melodies, didn’t sound like something that came out of an exercise book. Benny is a master musician, a consummate artist who recognizes the value of a melody, and he can construct a melody that sings and that stays in your head once you hear it. Tunes like “Whisper Not” or “I Remember Clifford” are real songs. That’s just not la-de-da-da-da-dah-da-dah. These songs don’t just go in one ear and out the other. He’s also able to construct a harmonic framework that the improviser feels very comfortable with; not that it’s always easy, but feels very comfortable with to construct their own melodies during their improvisation.
I think Benny is a very rare person to be able to do this so well. Because we have a lot of writers, who are not bad writers, but a lot of them are weak on melody, and then when they get to the harmony, the harmony is just not compatible to improvise on. It’s either too many chords or too little. They might have two chords all the way through or 222 chords. [LAUGHS]
TP: I guess a lot of his conception came from the small group writing of Tadd Dameron.
AF: That’s right. He would be the first one to tell you that he learned a great deal from Tadd Dameron. I was just talking to Benny a couple of days ago, and he mentioned that he learned a great deal from Ernie Wilkins also. Ernie used to write for Count Basie’s band.
TP: Speakking of Tadd Dameron, I’m sure he always had the sound of Fats Navarro in his ear.
AF: Oh yes.
TP: And I’m sure you must be one of the major sounds that Benny Golson is hearing in his ear when he’s writing his tunes.
AF: Yes, no doubt about it.
TP: Prior to the Jazztet, Benny Golson had been with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and, as he tells it, had really organized the Messengers into the Messengers…
TP: …and sort of given them an approach that lasted for the next thirty-plus years. Was the Jazztet kind of a conscious effort on his part to do something similar with a group of young, contemporary musicians, less drummer-oriented? How did it come about?
AF: Well, I never thought about it that way. How it came about was, as you said, Benny had been playing with Art Blakey and I had been playing with Gerry Mulligan for the year prior to the organization of the Jazztet. Then Benny decided that he wanted to do something that would have more of his imprint into it. Mulligan was getting ready to organize the Concert Jazz Band, and at that time I didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of a big band, so I was looking for something to do. Benny and I had been running into each other in New York at various record dates and things, either I was playing on his date or he was playing on mine. So I was thinking about calling him and asking him if he would like to work with me, when he called me. I said, “I was just getting ready to call you.” So we said, “Okay, then let’s work together.” That’s how the Jazztet came about.
Trombonist Curtis Fuller had worked with Benny for an extended engagement down at the old Five-Spot, so he was the first sideman Benny suggested, to which I said, “Fine,” because I had worked with Curtis on various record dates, and we knew each other and we got along well.
TP: He was also a very strong acolyte of J.J. Johnson…
AF: Right, very strong!
TP: …and a very strong musical personality in his own right.
AF: Yes, in his own right.
TP: McCoy Tyner was the pianist in the first Jazztet.
AF: Right. Well, Benny recommended McCoy to me…
TP: Did he know him from Philadelphia?
AF: He knew him from Philadelphia. In fact, working with the Jazztet was the first job that McCoy had outside of Philly. As I said, Benny recommended McCoy, and he recommended him so strongly that…when Benny recommends someone that strong, well, you can trust that recommendation. So I said, “Okay, let’s go with it.” McCoy was interested, so we brought him over, and that was his introduction to the world of Jazz other than in Philadelphia.
TP: The Jazztet was known as group that combined hard blowing with discipline, almost in the space, say, between the Messengers and the MJQ. That may be an inaccurate way of framing it, but it’s a roundabout way of talking to you about the repertoire of the group. Did it have any sort of a laboratory quality?
AF: No, it didn’t have a laboratory quality, as far as I can remember now. Benny wrote the arrangements, or whoever wrote the arrangements, we would rehearse them, and if there was something that didn’t work, we would take it out. But that happens with any group. What it didn’t have was, it wasn’t the type of situation where you get five or six guys together, and they play the first chorus, and then everybody plays a ten-minute solo, and then they play the first chorus again, and take it out.
TP: Then the set’s over.
AF: [LAUGHS] It wasn’t like that. It was like you didn’t have all night to say what you wanted to say, because you had to make way for someone else. We had it that way on purpose, because we didn’t want any boredom to set in, but we still wanted people to have enough time to say what they wanted to say.
TP: Which I guess also reflects your early experience in big bands, jump bands, and so forth and so on.
[MUSIC: AF 4, “Kayin'” (1961); A. Farmer/O. Nelson, “Street of Dreams” (1962); AF 4, “Lullaby Of The Leaves” (1961), AF 5, “Happy Feet”, AF/J. Hall, “Swing Spring” (1964), AF/S. Kuhn, “I Waited For You” (1965); AF/J. Hall, “What’s New”; AF 4, “Die Salde Sin Hemmin” (1966); AF/JJ, “Shortcake”, “Euro #2” (1966); AF/J. Heath, “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” “Blue Bossa” (1967); AF/O. Nelson, “Raincheck” (1962); AF/Vienna…, “God Bless The Child”]
[MUSIC: Jazztet, “Serenata” (1960); Jazztet, “Wonder Why” (1960); AF/Jazztet, “My Funny Valentine” (1961); “Django” (1961); “Rue Prevail” (1962)]
TP: On the 1962 performance of “Rue Prevail” you played the flugelhorn, and in 1960 you were playing the trumpet.
TP: You subsequently became identified very much with the flugelhorn. What was happening during that time? Because changing your sound is really the most personal thing an improviser can do.
AF: Well, I started around that time playing the flugelhorn, but not limited to the flugelhorn. I would play it on tunes that I felt the flugelhorn was the best horn I could play it with. Other than that, I would play the trumpet.
TP: When did you start working with the flugelhorn?
AF: Oh, it must have been around 1962.
TP: What inspired you? You weren’t getting the sound you wanted on certain things?
AF: Yeah, on certain things, certain times. In certain rooms the trumpet sounded very brassy and piercing, and it just didn’t blend in the way I wanted it to do. I remembered that I had heard some other people, like Clark Terry, for instance, playing the flugelhorn, and I had heard a recording that Miles had done playing the flugelhorn, and I felt, “well, I should give that a try.”
TP: So how was it initially?
AF: Oh, it was fine. The sound was there right from the start. But when you ask a little bit more of horn, when you want the projection that the trumpet has, well, then you come up sort of lacking, because the flugelhorn does not have that. So most guys double, and they go back and forth between the trumpet and the flugelhorn.
TP: Why didn’t you?
AF: Well, I found it inconvenient. You see, when you put one horn down, it cools off, and then you pick it up and start playing it, and it’s flat for the introduction and maybe part of the first chorus, and that sort of gets things off to a rocky start. So I would rather just stick with one. So I wound up sticking with the flugelhorn with the Jazztet, and then shortly after that the Jazztet broke up, I organized a quartet that had the guitarist Jim Hall in it. Jim Hall is not a loud player, and it seemed to me that the flugelhorn was more compatible with his sound than the trumpet would be. So I wound up playing the flugelhorn exclusively, and I guess I kept the trumpet in the case for about two or three years.
TP: Well, what did you have to do to elicit as full a complement of sound projection from the flugelhorn as you could?
AF: Actually, it’s not possible to fully get the projection. You can approximate it, but you don’t really completely get to it — you just go in that direction. Sometimes, if you go into the high register, the flugelhorn can have a tendency to sound like a squealing [LAUGHS] instead of playing.
TP: Well, I guess if that happens with Art Farmer, he’ll make it musical somehow. But in the last several years you’ve performed on a customized instrument that hopefully blends the attributes of both the trumpet and flugelhorn — the flumpet.
AF: The flumpet. I hate that name, but I’m stuck with it. [LAUGHS] That was made by a trumpet-maker named David Monette, who makes trumpets for a lot of very fine trumpet players, such as Wynton Marsalis, for instance, and the principal players for the Boston Symphony and the Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Symphony, etcetera. I asked him to make me a trumpet, and he made it, it was very fine, and I started really working on the trumpet. Then he got the idea that it didn’t really sound like me, but he wanted to make a flugelhorn for me — so I told him to go ahead and do it. Then he called up one day, and he said, “Well, I made it very carefully and put every part in order, made it by hand [because everything is made by hand], but it sounds like hell, and I really don’t like it. But I have another idea.” So I told him to go ahead and make it. Then a couple of months later, he called and said, “it’s ready.” I went to Chicago, where I was booked, and he brought it on the gig — and right from the start, it sounded like the answer to my prayers.
TP: How so?
AF: Well, you could go one way or the other on it. You could approximate the warmth of the flugelhorn or you could approximate the projection of the trumpet. If you really wanted to put a note out there, you could do it, and if you wanted to be more intimate, you could do that also. So it seemed like what I was looking for.
TP: [ETC.] In the next set of music, we’ll hear some incarnations of the Jazztet’s second life, between 1983 and 1987 or so.
AF: Some time around there.
TP: I guess reorganizing the Jazztet was just a natural thing to think about at a certain point.
AF: It came about because a Japanese promoter came up with the idea of getting the Jazztet back together to make a tour of Japan. Then someone else in Europe heard about this idea, and said, “Yeah, we like that idea, so why don’t you make a tour of Europe first and then go to Japan?” So that’s how we got it back together. We brought Curtis back in the group, too. Then we were able to get some dates in United States also. I think that we kept the Jazztet going the second time for about two years. During that time we didn’t work all the time, so I would work with my own group also, and Benny would work with his own group.
TP: Apart from all of you being twenty years older, with that level of maturity as musicians, were there any changes in strategy, orientation or approach of the group?
AF: Yeah, there were some changes. We wanted the group to be more loose, where the members still had more space to be themselves without being hampered by obligations to play backgrounds and interludes and things like that. Although that was certainly part of it, too, but we didn’t want people to feel that they were hampered by that. We still wanted the players to feel free. That was the only change I could think of.
[MUSIC: Jazztet “Moment To Moment” (1983), “From Dream To Dream,” “Are You Real?” (1986)]
TP: Around the time the Jazztet was reformed, you organized a tremendously creative quintet with Clifford Jordan, which first recorded in 1984. Did you first meet Clifford during your time together with Horace Silver around 1956-1957?
AF: No, I first came in touch with Clifford Jordan around 1951 or ’52, when I was still living in California. Clifford had come out there to spend some time with some family members of his. I met him through a personal friend of the two of us, a mutual friend. I was introduced as a trumpet player, and Clifford said, “Oh, yeah, you play the trumpet. Well, I used to play the saxophone.” [LAUGHS] He wasn’t playing at the time.
TP: He used to play the trumpet, too.
AF: Yes. He started off with the piano, actually. Then he went to the trumpet, and then he went to the saxophone still in Chicago.
TP: When did you first hear him play?
AF: When I first heard him was with Max Roach, after Sonny Rollins left Max Roach. I heard him in that context, and then he came with Horace, who I was working with at the time, and that’s the first time I played with him.
TP: You played side by side for about a year.
AF: Right, for about a year.
TP: Describe Clifford Jordan’s personality. He was a very witty and…
AF: Well, he was very witty. But his middle name is Laconia — and he was very laconic. You know, there was a certain style about him, especially about what he would say. It was like it was serious and putting you on at the same time. You had to know Clifford to know what he was really getting at.
TP: There must have been a lot of musical jokes on the stand as well.
AF: Well, there were some, but we usually didn’t joke that much about music. [LAUGHS] We might joke about the people and about the various situations that one would find oneself in. But the music we didn’t joke too much about, unless you find yourself in deep water.
TP: Well, as two very quick-witted improvisers, I’m sure you could find your way out of that. What was the impetus for the Art Farmer Quintet Featuring Clifford Jordan?
AF: I had been living in Europe, and I had been coming back and forth, working over here with quintets and quartets, mostly quartets. I always liked the way Clifford played; I always liked the way he played very much. I found myself in a situation where I could add another horn, and he was the first one that I thought of. I had done quite a bit of work in the mid-Sixties with Jimmy Heath, who is another great tenor saxophonist, but Jimmy was working with the Heath Brothers. To make a choice between Jimmy and Clifford was very hard to do. You’d choose who was available, and be glad that one of them was available. I was very glad that Clifford was available.
Clifford was a saxophone player that had his own personal sound, especially by that time, and there was no one better at giving you this feeling that you were listening to an individual player, that instead of listening to the tenor saxophone, you were listening to an individual person. That’s what Clifford had that is so hard to find. You know, you can find musicians, especially tenor saxophone players, it seems like there are so many of them that are so great as far as mastery of the horn. And once they master the horn, they’ve mastered the whole thing. They have ideas galore, and they play the tune inside, outside, up and down and around. But when it comes to an individual speaking to you, Clifford does that better than anyone I know.
[MUSIC: Art Farmer/Clifford Jordan, “Smile Of The Snake” (1988); w/ Horace “Moon Rays” (1957); AF/Cliff, “Raincheck” (1987), “The Summary” (1989), “”Prelude #1” (1984)]
TP: I’d like to ask you about the qualities of certain writers you favor and how they fall on the horn. This is sort of impressionistic and maybe not so easy to put into words. But for instance, in selecting an album of Strayhorn compositions, it’s a kind of complex decision…
AF: It is complex, because those songs were created for big bands, and then to record them with a five-piece group is not a very easy thing. You have to try somehow to maintain the color, the harmonic color of the piece with two horns instead of twelve horns. So you have to be careful. Some tunes just don’t work out, so you have to find something that you can work with. Luckily, Billy Strayhorn was such a great composer that even with the simplest line, it could happen. But then, if you go into a tune like “Bloodcount” [Contemporary] where you want to get the color on it, then you have to be careful what you do. Of course, we like to play ballads, so we were very careful.
This “Prelude #1” [Soul Note] was written by the Classical composer Frederic Chopin, and there certainly was no idea that it would be recorded with a Jazz group, with a quintet. It was arranged by the Austrian pianist that works with me, Fritz Pauer. He’d just brought it in. It was written just for the left hand of a pianist. I liked it. I liked the way it was treated. It just worked. Some things work and some things don’t.
TP: Well, in the case of Thad Jones, “The Summary” [Contemporary], you were dealing with a composer who was also a great…
AF: Oh yes. A great trumpeter. He was really a monster.
TP: Talk about his writing.
AF: Well, his writing was some of the greatest writing that has ever happened for a large group. I haven’t heard as much of his writing for small group as I would like to. When I first came east with Lionel Hampton’s band, that’s when I heard him with his group. He had a group out in Detroit, he and Frank Foster and Billy Mitchell, and I think Tommy Flanagan was in the group, too, and Elvin Jones. That was great music.
The first time I heard Thad, I was playing with Jay McShann in the late Forties, maybe ’48 or ’49, something like that. We were in Oklahoma, either Tulsa or Oklahoma City, and we had a night off, and we were jamming one night. In comes this guy with an Army uniform on, he was like a Lieutenant or a Warrant Officer or something like that, and he takes out his horn and starts playing it — and I said, “Who is that?” Because he was playing like only Thad can play.
TP: That sounds like a scene one might have thought of from Kansas City in the 1930’s.
AF: Well, this was in the Forties, in the late Forties, maybe ’48 or ’49, something like that. I never had heard about any Thad Jones. I had heard about Hank Jones, but Thad Jones, well… And he really just blew anybody away.
TP: You didn’t mention earlier that you’d played with Jay McShann.
AF: I played with Jay McShann for a year or two. We didn’t make any records as the Jay McShann Orchestra. I think there was a record ban on or something. We made some kind of record backing up a singer, called “When I’m In My Gin.” [LAUGHS]
TP: Was he doing any of his older repertoire?
AF: Yes, he was then, sure. “Jumpin’ The Blues.” You know, you can’t get away without doing “Jumpin’ The Blues” and things like that. That was a great experience playing with McShann. I never will forget that somebody told him, “Mister McShann, when you play those Blues, you sound just like Art Tatum,” and he said, “No, Art Tatum sounds like me, sonny.” Because he was the master of playing the Blues on the piano.
TP: How many pieces was that band?
AF: Oh, maybe it was about 14-15 pieces, something like that.
TP: Hearkening back, you were in a lot of these type situations in your apprenticeship period — Johnny Otis, McShann, Horace Henderson, Lionel Hampton. I guess all of these experiences really accrue and become part of what happens to you as an improviser.
AF: Certainly. I just thank God for the opportunity of playing with Jay McShann. I played with Benny Carter in the late Forties and early Fifties; not traveled, but just in the Los Angeles area.
TP: Playing with Benny Carter, as well as with Horace Henderson, must have been a real learning experience, as far as playing in section and musical discipline.
AF: Yes. The music wasn’t easy. I was lucky to be there. And the more experienced sidemen that were there were very helpful. That’s one thing about the music business, is that when people see that you’re serious about learning, well, then, they’ll bend over backwards to give you a helping hand. That’s what keeps the music alive, I think.
TP: Passed down from generations.
AF: That’s correct. That’s the best way you can learn, sitting next to someone who knows what’s happening, who’s been there, and they’ll steer you right.
TP: Well, it certainly seems to be a principle you’ve followed in your groups. For at least fifteen years you’ve employed top young musicians, and…
AF: Well, it’s to my advantage. I mean, I’m not doing anybody any favors. People are there because they should be there. If I can tell them something, well, fine. But they’re there to fulfill a function.
TP: We spoke earlier about the long process of finding a sound. Was your style formed exclusively from trumpet players, or did you listen to other instrumentalists and try to get some of their qualities?
AF: No, you listen to everyone, and you try to get some of their quality. I certainly listened a whole lot to saxophone players — Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker and Ben Webster and Lester Young — for dynamics and for phrasing, and just getting around the music. The last thing a person should do is just listen to their own instrument, because that limits you so much. It’s just unnecessary to put yourself in a situation where you’re dealing with that kind of limitation. It’s like you’re just listening to half of the world, like you don’t want to…you’re just saying, “I don’t want to know anything else.” There’s no point in that.
I listen to pianists, because I like the way pianists are able to play a line of notes, and all you hear are just the notes, nothing in between. I would like to execute on the horn the way, say, Bud Powell would execute on the piano, for instance. The saxophonists I listen to for the warmth of the sound. The alto for the clarity, and the soprano saxophone for the emotion that comes through that horn so easily, comes right at you; if you listen to John Coltrane or Clifford Jordan, Jimmy Heath, and people like that, it’s right there.
I would say that the main thing about playing is listening. You have to really concentrate on what you’re hearing, because you can easily think it’s one thing, and then it’s something else. Sometimes when we go around and participate in classes, we’ll play something and ask somebody to play it back, and they’ll play something quite different from what was really played because they hadn’t really listened close enough. Then I’d say, “Well, that shows you that you have to get your listening chops together, so you can be sure that you’re playing what you heard.”
Jazz is not just a matter of what’s on the paper, but it’s a matter of what you hear. That’s how you learn. Some guys, guys who are really well-trained, have well-trained ears, you play something one time, they got it. They can throw it right back at you as fast as you can play it. Then some other guys, their ears are not that well trained. You have to take a thing and break it apart and play it note by note by note for them to get it.
TP: Where do you stand?
AF: I’m somewhere in the middle!
TP: When we were chatting while the music was on earlier, you said that you wanted to talk about the individuality of some trumpet players. So I’m going to throw some names at you, and please speak about them at whatever length you’d like. I’ll start with Freddie Webster, who you’ve mentioned already.
AF: Well, if Freddie had lived longer, I think he would have become just as influential as Dizzy was. And I’m not taking nothing away from Dizzy. Freddie was a great player in his own way of playing. He had the sound, as Dizzy would say. I remember one time when I first came to New York and I went to talk to Dizzy about getting a job with his band, and Dizzy said, “Well, what I’m looking for is a trumpet player with a sound like Freddie Webster. I can do everything else myself.” That was the main thing, the timbre of the sound and the emotional content that he was able to project.
TP: Miles Davis admired him tremendously also.
AF: That’s right. Well, they were buddies.
TP: Now, he wasn’t recorded that much.
AF: No, he wasn’t.
TP: In person what did he sound like?
AF: I never got a chance to hear him in person. I met him, but he wasn’t working at the time. I just never got a chance to hear him. So all I had to go by was what I heard on the record, and with the recording technique as it was then, there was no way that that sound could be embellished. What you heard was what was there, and nothing else. But I heard him on the live broadcasts with the Jimmie Lunceford band. He played this tune, “Yesterdays,” and it just blew me away, as it does many people. I heard him on some recordings with Sarah Vaughan. The sound was there, the broadness of the sound. No one else had a sound like that, as far as I can remember.
TP: Did that quality of sound sort of enter your mind’s ear as something to strive for?
AF: It certainly did. If you want to have a broad sound, I don’t know anyone who had a sound broader than that. And he was able to make it work for him. He was one of a kind. If he had been able to stay alive longer, and to make more records where he had a chance to play, I think his influence would have become very great with horn players, and all of us would have benefitted. I think the person that benefitted the most from Freddie was Miles Davis, because he really listened closely to Freddie.
TP: Well, let’s make Miles Davis the next trumpeter we talk about.
AF: Well, Miles is very special, because in my opinion, he’s the first trumpet player that came along that…it’s very hard to hear Louis Armstrong in Miles’ playing.
TP: And why is that important?
AF: That’s important because Louis Armstrong was the well, heh-heh, where you go to for the water. You know, he was the source. And if somebody could come along and say as much as Miles said, and you couldn’t hear Louis Armstrong in it, that was really a miracle to me. I’m certainly not putting down Louis Armstrong. As I said, I haven’t heard anything greater than Louis Armstrong, nothing as far as an individual instrument. The emotion that he could get out of that horn, there’s nothing around like that.
TP: You first met Miles around 1946 when he came out to California with Benny Carter. Did you maintain a pretty good relationship with him in New York?
AF: Well, we didn’t hang out, but I would run into him sometimes. I used to see him, like, on the Street (when I say the Street, I mean 52nd St), and then sometimes just run into him, you know, uptown or downtown. We were always friendly. He never had this attitude that he’s famous for, or that people always attribute to him as being hard to talk to. That’s not the Miles that I know.
TP: I gather that he had quite a bit of respect for your playing, and Thad Jones as well.
AF: Yes, I guess so. He was always very approachable and helpful. I can’t think of any negative thing that ever happened with Miles.
But I’d like to break into this conversation and say that one of the greatest trumpet players, who was virtually ignored during his life, was Kenny Dorham. He was playing at a time when there was a lot of traffic out there, you know.
TP: Talk about a distinctive sound, I’ve never heard anybody with a sound quality quite like his.
AF: No, it was personal. A personal sound. It didn’t sound like he was copying anyone. He just had his own sound, and that was it. It wasn’t a big, broad sound. It wasn’t the kind of sound that I was trying to get. But it was a unique sound, and he could use it very well. He always sounded very hip, the way he could phrase and the inflections that he could put on a note which identified him right away.
TP: I’m going to ask you now about the three sort of major voices of the period you came up in — in no particular order: Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, and then subsequently, Clifford Brown.
AF: Well, you could hear Fats. Fats had a big, fat sound. No pun intended, but he had a great sound. He was a master trumpet player, and he sounded like he could do anything he wanted to do on the trumpet with ease. But still, without Dizzy, there would have been no Fats Navarro as we know him. No way. He was very strong on harmony, but the way he used harmony, you could hear where it came from. So I’m saying that the credit has to go to Dizzy, because that was the main influence of a great trumpet player.
TP: Indeed, Dizzy Gillespie’s harmonic and rhythmic innovations are the fount for a lot of things still happening today in Jazz.
TP: I’d like you to talk about your early impressions of him. Now, you heard the band that came out to Billy Berg’s in 1945 as a 17-year-old.
AF: Yes, I saw Diz and Bird. But I have to say this. One night I was playing in a place in Paris, and a lady who used to book some dates for me, said, “Dizzy is coming down tonight.” So I’m thinking, “Well, I’m going to play something that doesn’t have anything to do with Dizzy at all. I played and I played and I played, and it seemed like everything I played I could trace right back to Dizzy! It was very frustrating. I wanted to play something unique. But I could see my sources then for sure. Like, if you just play and don’t think about where this comes from and where that comes from, you might start thinking that you’re doing something original. But that’s very rare.
TP: Were you familiar with the early Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie records when they came out to the West Coast?
AF: Yes. You see, when I was still living in Arizona, before I came to the West Coast, the first time I heard people playing that way was on some of the Billy Eckstine records. Dizzy took a solo on one thing, and Dexter and Gene Ammons took a solo on something else. Then when my brother and I moved to Los Angeles, some kids our age played these quintet records that Dizzy and Bird made, and that turned everything over for me. Because I was hearing intervals and notes that I never had heard anyone else play before. Dizzy was in another universe as far as picking notes to play. In the quintet, the solos had more time to play than in the big band, so I could really hear what was going on. It just grabbed me. And I’m still where I was then.
TP: Well, not quite, I wouldn’t think.
Q: I’m sure you hadn’t heard anybody play at that velocity.
AF: No. But I had heard a lot of the Jazz greats, like Roy Eldridge. I had heard Johnny Hodges and the wonderful trumpet players with Duke Ellington’s band, and Buck Clayton and people like that. The Ellington trumpet players were the ones that really got me, because they all sounded different. Everyone there sounded different.
TP: Of course, Ellington put them in situations where their individuality could be most fully exploited.
AF: Yes, absolutely. But Dizzy got all the kids. Because the kids, when you grab a trumpet, the first thing you want to do is play up high, and see who can play the highest. But Dizzy could play up high, and play something, too. He wasn’t just screeching out a note, the way you hear some people do it, trying to see how high they can play. But he was playing melodic ideas, with the swing and the clarity; his attack and intonation, everything was there. He was really a harmonic pioneer for a horn player. There had been pianists who were playing great notes, like Art Tatum, but Dizzy was the first one I heard that really was playing notes like that on a horn, and that, as I said, before, turned me upside-down. So he had us all right from the very start.
Going back to Miles again, you have to give him credit. When I first heard him, he was under the influence of Dizzy, but then he found his own way, and it was quite different. Somehow he had managed to put it together and really talk to people through what he played on the horn — you know, get to the heart.
TP: You spoke earlier about Clifford Brown, who you sat next to in Lionel Hampton’s trumpet section for a year, which I’m sure was a simultaneously enlightening and probably somewhat humbling experience as well.
AF: [LAUGHS] Yes, it was. Lionel liked to have battles, tenor battles or trumpet battles, whatever. When Brownie came in the band, I had already been there for maybe about a year, and I was taking almost all the solos. So then Brownie comes in the band, and Lionel, instead of taking some solos away from me and giving them to Brownie, he just opened up the arrangement, so I would go up first, and then Brownie would come out and play after me, or vice-versa. But any time I went out first, I would figure, “Well, this guy is breathing down ny neck, and I’d better play the best I can play, otherwise he’s just going to wipe me away.” We had the same influence. We both loved Fats Navarro very much. But he was much more developed than I was, and he could really take care of himself on the horn.
I learned a lot being there, and being able to listen to him every night. There’s no words to describe how great he was, playing that horn consistently. He could do everything. He had technique and harmonic knowledge, a big fat sound. He was able to articulate on the horn no matter what the tempo. Even with all these great things, he had a great feeling, and he played musically. He’s not a guy who was just running notes just to be running notes. He’d put together a string of notes just like a string of pearls. Each one matched the other in the string. He could play ideas. He could play with humor — which is very rare. It’s very rare to find someone who can play with humor and still be playing musically, but he could do this. He could play ballads. He’d play race-horse tempos. I don’t know anything that he couldn’t do. He really had it together. He sounded like he had been playing a hundred years.
TP: Old soul with young chops.
TP: I’d like to now ask you about some of the trumpeters from the generation that followed you. My mind makes the leap from Clifford Brown right to Booker Little. Were you at all close to him?
AF: No, I wasn’t close to Booker. Of course, we knew each other, and I heard him play. He sounded like he spent 23 out of 24 hours on the horn. He really died too soon. He had gotten the technique on the horn, and these records that he and Eric Dolphy made, the live records down at the Five Spot, were very good and very interesting, but I think that if he had lived longer…
TP: They were the beginnings.
AF: Yes, they were at the beginning as far as Booker Little was concerned.
TP: Well, two trumpeters who were born in the same year as Booker Little who went on to make huge impacts were Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, who were also deeply influenced by Clifford Brown and Dizzy Gillespie.
TP: Were you paying as much attention to the younger trumpeters…
AF: Oh, certainly. I was paying a lot of attention to Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. I used to hear Lee every night, because he was playing with Dizzy’s big band at Birdland, and I was playing with Lester Young’s Quintet there opposite Dizzy. So I listened to Lee every night. And I know Lee was a master on the trumpet.
You know, the trumpet is an instrument that really makes people suffer. It makes the listener suffer sometimes! It makes the player suffer almost all the time! — you know, to master that thing. The trumpet is the Master, and it makes you suffer to get to the point where you can do anything with it at all. And you hear someone like Lee Morgan come along, who is really a kid, and he plays it with nonchalance, and he plays it, “Oh, well, it’s just a trumpet.” That’s the attitude that comes out when you hear him playing all these things, things that I would never dream of being able to do. He was just playing with such ease. He’d take the mouthpiece out and play the horn just with the leader part. It seemed like he could do anything with the horn.
TP: It seems like trumpet players are sort of divided between ones for whom the technique of the instrument isn’t really a problem and ones who create their style out of their limitations.
AF: Yes, that’s right. Some people have some sort of a gift for playing this horn, and Lee was one of them for sure. Then Freddie Hubbard came along, and he sort of upset the whole thing, because he was so great, with such strong emotion and such power. He had a certain fierceness in his playing which was kind of rare at that time, because people were under the influence of Miles. Freddie was completely different. He was unique in that respect. He was like…the first word that comes to my mind is, I would say “gladiator.” When he took that horn out, it was like somebody had taken out one of these chains with a big metal ball on the end with spikes and stuff that he’s gonna knock anybody down that got in his way! Don’t mess with Freddie! Because Freddie could do it all, too, but he had a certain masculinity in his playing that was like he’s the greatest one around here, and if you don’t believe it, he’ll show you.
TP: Were you friends with or close to Woody Shaw?
AF: I wasn’t really close to Woody, but we were certainly friends, because all trumpet players are friendly competitors.
TP: Well, he took the trumpet into a somewhat different direction than Freddie Hubbard.
AF: Oh yes, he certainly did. He was another one that went another way, like Miles went another way. Everybody does. But he was successful. He brought something into the trumpet that wasn’t there before, as far as the way he constructed his lines. There was no one that was any place near him with the trumpet, and you would have to go to John Coltrane to find anyone who was able to deal with pieces harmonically the way Woody Shaw was — and Woody Shaw died, and there’s no one doing that now. It seemed like it was just impossible.
It’s so difficult to play that way. You know, the way I play is completely different from Woody Shaw. I’m looking for pretty notes, to put together some notes and get a pretty phrase. But Woody never played that way. That was not what he was about. He was looking for something that was really interesting to the ear, something that your ear had never heard before. That’s what you would get from Woody Shaw. You got that from Woody Shaw more than anybody else, including Lee Morgan or Freddie or Kenny Dorham or anybody you want to name. Nobody could put together a string of notes like Woody Shaw, and he did it over and over and over again, consistently. He was a miracle.
TP: Who among the younger trumpet players who have emerged in the 1980’s has caught your ear, and why?
AF: Well, everyone I hear catches my ear. I haven’t had the chance to hear as many as I would like to hear. The last one I heard was the trumpet player Roy Hargrove. He’s a great Jazz player. Then the trumpet player that was the stand-in for Miles at Montreux, Wallace Roney. I heard him a couple of years ago on a tour, and he certainly caught my ear. What he is able to do, what the young guys, in general, are able to do, to me it’s miraculous. The things they play are so difficult, and they’re in such control of the horn. Like I said, Brownie sounded like he had been playing a hundred years. Well, these guys, they sound like that, too. The stakes have risen.
TP: All that literature, of course, is available to them, and many have had the tuition to be able to learn how the masters did it.
AF: Yes. Well, the educational possibilities are certainly much better now than they were fifty years ago. But it’s more than that in the game. Because if it was just a matter of education being more available, then you would have a hundred times the players that you have now. So these guys, I have to say that they have done a heck of a lot of work to be able to do what they do. I can’t name all of them, but I haven’t heard one yet that couldn’t play. I haven’t heard a single one that sounded to me like I would say, “Why don’t you go home and get in the shed.” They just don’t sound that way. They sound like all they have to do is live a little longer, live life, and transfer that into the music.
[MUSIC: Art Farmer/Jim Hall “I Want To Be Happy” (1964), “Embraceable You” (1962); ‘Big Blues” (1978)]
TP: On the face of it, Mr. Farmer, it would seem that you and Jim Hall would be a perfect front-line match in your sensibilities and the way you think about music.
AF: [LAUGHS] Oh, that’s funny. The crux of the whole thing is that Jim can make anything sound good. Anything I would play, he is so quick to do something with it. If I played a wrong note, which I certainly easily would do, he could make it sound right. And there are few people who can do that or even would take the trouble to do it. Jim is just a beautiful player. Always has been.
TP: I guess he came to you after working with Sonny Rollins for a few years.
AF: That’s where the idea of this group came from. Sonny had taken a vacation for a year or so, and then he organized a quartet with Jim Hall, Walter Perkins and Bob Cranshaw, I think. Jim and Sonny sounded so beautiful in this setting and so loose, that…
TP: You stole him?
AF: No, not quite. Sonny decided to make a change in his style of playing, and he got Don Cherry in the group and Jim came out. So I asked Jim if he would like to do some dates with me. But the whole inspiration of it was from what Jim and Sonny did. They were reacting to each other in such a spontaneous but musical way.
TP: I would imagine that not having a piano would have had an impact on your approach to your solos..
AF: Well, it gives you more freedom. But I had gotten used to that working with Gerry Mulligan. That’s the first time I had worked in that type of a context. You have to get used to it. As I said before, the first time I played on a job with Gerry Mulligan, I felt like one of those nightmares where you find yourself walking down the street with no clothes on. I was bared. There was nothing there to hide behind. You had to do something that made sense without this harmonic background behind you, which can be a great help. If you have someone playing harmony behind you, playing a group of notes, well, then, that’s going to enhance what you do, and give it a sense of direction and meaning. But if you’re just playing one note and the bass player behind you is playing one note, well, then, it’s hard to relate what a person plays on top, because there’s not enough there to relate to. So you get help out of someone playing a chord instrument like a guitar or a piano. When you go out there by yourself, you have to make sense by yourself.
TP: I would imagine that this was the first time you led the same group for a sustained period of time.
TP: Comment on how that impacts the music, however it does.
AF: Well, it should impact the music, but I don’t remember it impacting the music when we played. We just got up and played whatever we wanted to play. That’s all I can think of. Sometimes I might ask Jim what he felt like playing, but usually I would call the tunes, and the way I called the tunes was based upon what I feel I can do best at that time. Trumpet players have to consider the physical part of playing more than other people do. You have to play something that you feel you can get through without too many blooies. If you overdo it on one tune, then you have to back off a little bit on the next tune.
TP: Is that the case now, too?
AF: It’s always the case.
TP: How do you work it? Do you have a book of maybe 30-40 tunes that everybody’s familiar with, and then you select from it?
AF: Yes, that’s right. I have a book that has maybe around a hundred tunes in it, but at any given time I would probably be using about 30 of those. You can’t play the same tune all the time, week-in and week-out. You have to give these tunes a rest. Sometimes you give them a rest and never come back to them.
TP: So within that book of a hundred, you might be adding ten to that and dropping ten…
AF: Yes, right.
TP: …and within like two to three year cycles, say.
AF: Yes, I always bring in some new tunes from time to time. That sort of keeps you awake. If you play the stuff that you know all the time, you can get bored on the job.
TP: Your groups perform an extremely venturesome and challenging repertoire. How do you go about selecting tunes?
AF: Well, usually guys in the group just bring the tunes in, and I run them down. If it seems interesting to me, if it seems like it’s worth working on to perfect my playing in it, then I would say, “Yeah, okay, let’s do it. Let’s go for it.” Then I’d take it home and go in the woodshed with it, and stay there until I feel able to play it in public.
TP: It seems that the challenge of performing very difficult music in some ways is what keeps you fresh.
AF: Yes, certainly it does. Because you have to keep learning. If you play things that don’t give you any challenge… It’s hard to learn anything on these standard tunes. But some of these tunes like on this disk that you’re getting ready to play now, you have to be on your toes. Of course, like I said, I would listen to the tune, and if I could hear myself in it and thought that eventually I would be able to play it, well, then, we would start working on it. That would go for the other guys as well. But you don’t want to spend your lifetime on one tune. It has to show some reward somewhere, I guess you’d say light at the end of the tunnel or something like that somewhere. You don’t want to just work on a tune forever and ever. But sometimes it winds up that way. I’m working on a tune now, and we’re playing the tune in public sometimes; I’ve been working on this same tune for about four or five years. I still haven’t got it where I want it to be. But I’m going to hang in there.
TP: Although you haven’t written many compositions, what’s there is choice. Talk about your attitude towards writing.
AF: Well, first of all, you have to like the tune, and then, you have to figure out that you can learn it well enough that you can play it and bring something to it.
As far as writing tunes was concerned, well, I never have had reason to consider myself a composer. A tune might come to me sometime, but if I don’t get it from beginning to the end in a short period of time, that means I never will get it. So I just leave it for the scrap that it was, and that’s it, and go on to something else. I am really not a composer, and there are enough good composers around and enough good tunes around that I don’t feel obliged that I have to rely upon myself. Some guys only play their own tunes, and usually no one else plays their tunes but them, and the only reason why they’re playing the tunes is because they wrote them — you know, it’s some sort of ego or royalty trip for them. But that’s not the way I think about music or business. So I just can’t do it.
TP: I would imagine that preparing for records is a way of bringing in new material as well.
AF: That’s right. But a lot of times I find myself playing tunes on the record, and I never play them again. But then sometimes it works out the other way. But in order to make a record on a tune that you come anywhere near doing something you like, I have to do it so many times, that sometimes I never want to hear it again.
TP: I hope that’s not the case with the tracks we’re playing on this show. Though I gather from the liner notes that you did something like 47 takes on the version of “Embraceable You” that we heard…
AF: [LOUD LAUGH]
TP: …(I’m joking) before you found one that you were happy with.
AF: I was laughing, because I remember one time I was on a date that Benny had written and arranged. It was called Brass Shout. Philly Joe Jones was the drummer. Now, I didn’t know that this was supposed to be my date. I just called up Benny from the airport. I was working with Mulligan, and had some time to kill. He said, “Where are you?” I said, “I’m at the airport.” He said, “You’re supposed to be in the studio today.” I said, “What?” Then he explained that we are recording today, what became an album called Brass Shout. Lee Morgan was on the album, and a lot of great players, just brass players and rhythm. During the course of the date somebody said, “Well, you know this is your album. You know that.” I said, “No, I didn’t know that at all.”
We played a ballad, “April In Paris,” and we made we the first take, and I said, “I’d like to do it again.” Philly Joe says, “No, that’s good enough, that’s good enough. You don’t have to do it again.” I said, “Man, I want to do it again.” He says, “Well, so what, you want to do it again. It’s good enough. It’s good enough. You don’t have to do it no more.” I said, “Well, look, man, it’s my date, and I want to do it again.” He said, “What? It’s your date? If I had known it was your date, I wouldn’t be here.” I said, “You’re right. If I had known it was my date, you wouldn’t be here either.” We just looked at each other and laughed. Of course, we did it again, though.
TP: I’d guess the nakedness of the lone improviser is most evident in a quartet date.
AF: It is.
TP: And because of the chops thing for a trumpeter, a quartet date (apart from trios) must be a tremendous challenge.
AF: Yes, it’s a challenge. Because you’ve tried to keep from doing something that you would cringe when you had to go to a Jazz show on the radio and listen to it, and feel like just sneaking out the door, if you have too many blooies on the thing. So you have to be careful.
TP: The next set will focus on Art Farmer as featured soloist, and then we’ll return for more conversation. This track comes from the release that you said was your favorite record, done for Argo, entitled, simply, Art.
TP: What is it that makes a date be able to go well? I guess one thing is that Tommy Flanagan is the piano player.
AF: Yeah, that’s one of the most important things. He made such beautiful intros. He set you up so wonderful that when you started to play, you just had to follow him. So that made it happen.
But it was just one of those things where everything fell in line. It was very simple. What I did was, I went to the music store and bought some sheet music. Take a song like “Younger Than Springtime,” I would buy one copy for me, one copy for the bassist and a copy for Flanagan, then I would transpose my part and go in the studio and do it. We had no rehearsal. Just put the sheet music on the stand, and go ahead and play it. But the feeing was so good because the rhythm section was so nice, with Tommy Flanagan and a great bassist who doesn’t live any more by the name of Tommy Williams, who was a remarkable player.
TP: He was with the Jazztet.
AF: Yes, he was with the Jazztet at this time. And Tootie Heath on the drums. But Tommy Williams played great on this record. After playing with the Jazztet, he went to work with Stan Getz, and worked with him a couple of years, then he got out of the business.
TP: This one has seven standards, music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Irving Berlin. In your style, in improvising, do singers have an impact? I know you worked with Lester Young, who was a big advocate of knowing the lyrics for all the material.
AF: Right. Yes, they certainly have an influence on me. Certainly. Not as much as I would like to, because the ones that I love, like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae, are just thousands of light years away from me in what they were able to do with a tune. They could really bring a tune to life, and that’s what I try to do.
The first thing you have to do is get a good tune. And the guys who wrote these tunes were songsmiths. They really knew what they were doing. They could write a song, and the words meant something. Not just “Oh, I love you, baby, and I’m feeling so blue.” They’d say more than that. The songs were fun to play. I had worked with Lester Young, and I heard the way that he would treat a song, and I tried to do some of that, too, have it loose and free, put yourself in it. You have to believe in the song.
[MUSIC: AF4/Flanagan, “Younger Than Springtime” (1961), AF/Cedar, “Brownskin Girl In The Calico Gown” (1975), AF/Hank Jones, “Nita” (1958), AF/O. Nelson Orch, “Fly Me To The Moon (1962), AF/Hamp Hawes, “I Can’t Get Started” (1976), AF/Flanagan, “That Old Devil Called Love” (1961)]
TP: One thing that set brought out was the presence of so many the great piano players, the great solos, and the relationship between you, the soloist and the pianist.
AF: These guys play so good, they could just fall out of bed and play that way. All of them are just fantastic, and you couldn’t find anyone better than them to play with. Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Hampton Hawes. Hampton and I, we grew up together out in California, and we used to go over to his father’s church and try to figure out what was happening. But he certainly figured it out very well.
TP: There are some very early recordings with Wardell Gray in the early Fifties, not only the original “Farmer’s Market,” but also a recording on Xanadu that captures you at some length in a club.
AF: Oh yeah, that was unknown. We didn’t even know that had been recorded, and I wish it hadn’t been, but you have to live with those things. But Hampton certainly found his way at a very early age, and he was the king out there of the pianists. Like what I said about Jim Hall earlier, Hampton was able to make anything the soloist did sound better than it would sound without him. That’s the way these guys are. You couldn’t find anybody better to play with than Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones and Hampton Hawes. They’re just great, you know. The solos, comping, introductions… Like I said about Flanagan, when they play an intro, all you had to do was just follow them. It’s like they’re saying, “Here’s the way; just follow me. Everything is going to be all right.” They set it up so well. You couldn’t get any better introduction with a 60-piece orchestra than you can get from a good rhythm section.
TP: Speaking of which, it seems you’ve always worked with extremely dynamic drummers. In the last set we heard Billy Higgins, Roy Haynes, Tootie Heath. Talk a little bit about what you’re looking for in the drummer when you’re playing over an ensemble.
AF: Well, I’m looking for a drummer to give me some help. I remember one day I was talking to Miles, we ran into each other on the street, and we were just talking, and he said, “Yeah, you and I, we need strong drummers.” It’s true, to really put some fire underneath the line.
TP: And you can sort of float on top of it, feint in and out…
AF: Mmm-hmm. The drummers keep it going. And that’s very, very important. I like to have drummers that bring some fire to the thing, because then I can lay back and sort of come in a little bit after them. I don’t have to worry about keeping the thing alive. You can’t lay back too much, but it gives you some room. And if you lay back too much, you’re making the work too hard for the drummer.
TP: I guess Lester Young, your former employer, was one of the great masters at doing that.
AF: Yes, he certainly was.
TP: It sounds like your time with Lester Young was very valuable for you.
AF: Oh, it was. It really was. We never had a rehearsal. He just called up and said what time the gig started. He had a contract with Birdland where he would do a certain amount of weeks each year, and he wanted to have another horn on the stand other than just him, because the nights were very long — we used to do either five or six sets a night.
TP: 35-minute sets?
AF: Well, sometimes it was 35, sometimes 50, sometimes an hour. It varied, so everybody wound up doing the same amount of time. But the last set finished at 4 o’clock. So it was a long night. If you were playing with just one horn, the night gets longer. Lester would say that you hire people that play, and if they can play, well, that’s what you hired them for. If you’re not going to let them play, you shouldn’t have them there. You should have someone else.
TP: In all those combos he used trumpet players, like Jesse Drakes, Shorts MacConnell.
AF: Unless he went out on the road, and then it was just a rhythm section. But anyway, it was a great experience, because there was no rehearsal, and very little ensemble play. He would usually play the melody, unless you were playing something like “Lester Leaps In,” which is just a riff, really, where everybody would play at the same time. But when he’s playing the melody on the first chorus, well, then it was my chance to listen to how melody should and could be played. So I look to keep that forever. Then when the time came for his solo, he wouldn’t… You had to come to him to hear him play, to hear what he was doing. He wasn’t going to get into some sort of honk-and-scream tenor thing. He could do his own way of honking, which he used to do with Basie’s band, but in the context of a small group, he was usually pretty laid-back and cool, unless he took some breaks on “Lester Leaps In” or something like that. But he showed how to get intensity without what we used to call flag-waving.
TP: I remember in the famous late interview with him, he was talking about getting the horn some days to sound like a baritone, a clarinet, and that he’d try to evoke a wide range of color and dynamics out of his horn.
AF: Yes, right. He would play low on the horn and play up high on the horn sometimes, too. I know a strange thing, when he would come to work, he would take that horn out of the case and he would play so soft that you couldn’t hardly hear it. That’s the way he would warm up. It was like he was coaxing a sound out of the horn, like he was saying, “Come on, now, you know you can do it.”
People thought that he was weird and strange, but he wasn’t weird, he was just individual. He had such a great sense of humor. He would walk sideways on the stage. He was really a character. One night I was playing, and he sensed that I was getting ready to stop playing, and he sidled over to me and whispered in my ear, and he said, “I wouldn’t stop now, Prez.” I never will forget that, because he called everybody “Prez”.
TP: Did he nickname you?
AF: No. I think he called me Lady Farmer. He called everybody either “Prez” or “Lady.”
TP: The next set of music we’ll hear brings out an aspect of Art Farmer’s musical experience over the last twenty-five years, which are recordings made in Europe. You’ve been in residence in Vienna for quite some time now. So I guess the first question is what led you Europe, to Vienna, and then I’ll ask you about certain aspects of your musical experiences there.
AF: Well, I went there to participate in a Jazz competition as one of the judges, along with J.J. Johnson, Cannonball Adderley, Ron Carter, Mel Lewis and Joe Zawinul. This whole thing took about three weeks, and while I was there got to meet some of the local musicians. There were some very good players there, and they told me that the radio was in the process of organizing a Jazz band — and they asked me if I would like to become a member of it. The conditions were very lenient, because I would only have to work about ten days a month, and I would be free to do what I wanted to do the other time. So that sounded too good to turn down, because I found myself spending more and more time in Europe, and I just thought, well, maybe I should get away for a couple of years, because things were at a certain state here…
TP: How so? This was the mid-1960’s.
TP: Talk about that a bit.
AF: Well, the places where I could play were usually in what is called the ghetto area of the town. There was a lot of civil strife going on, and a lot of fires and riots and things, and people were scared to go out at night — they didn’t know what was going to happen. This was at the time when Rock really took over, the Beatles and everything like that took over the popularity that should be spread among all kinds of music. So Jazz was way down on the totem pole. Not too many were going out, and they were afraid of whether or not they were going to be able to get home. All kinds of things were happening.
So I thought it would make sense to get away from here, and get some place where I could think more about the music than be forced to think about other things that didn’t have anything to do with the music at all. So I took them up on it.
TP: What was the climate like in Europe in the mid to late 1960’s? Now, you certainly weren’t the only prominent American improviser to take up residence in Europe.
AF: Yeah, there were a lot of guys over there — Dexter Gordon, Kenny Clarke, Ben Webster. Even going back to the New Orleans days, Albert Nicholas was living there, and I got to hear him play; I never heard him play here, but I got to hear him play there. Don Byas. I’m going around playing on concerts with people like that, who I wouldn’t come in contact with here. It was educational from that point of view. So I really enjoyed being over there.
TP: One thing that’s almost a commonplace about Europe is that the rhythm sections there weren’t quite up to par vis-a-vis American rhythm sections. Was that true?
AF: Well, it was true in many cases, but it wasn’t true all the time. Even going back to the Sixties, there were some players who could really take care of the job.
TP: In Vienna were there…?
AF: In Vienna there were some who were close enough that you didn’t feel like walking off, certainly. Everybody wasn’t straight here either, you know.
TP: Well, the group you currently work with in Europe is very strong, as New Yorkers were able to hear at a recent engagement at Sweet Basil. I guess Fritz Pauer is the one you go back the farthest with.
AF: Yes, Fritz was the first one that I met. I was invited over to participate in a jazz competition which was organized by Friedrich Gulda, and Fritz was one of the competitors — actually he won First. Since he lived in Vienna, I got to know Fritz quite well. We’ve worked together many times throughout the year, and I have played and recorded a lot of his songs, because in my opinion, he is a great Jazz composer. His songs are really in the idiom. They really sound like Jazz songs. It doesn’t sound like Third Stream or semi-Classic or half-Jazz or Crossover or anything like that. It’s just Jazz, and it’s fun to play it, and I learn a lot from playing it. That’s most important to me.
TP: Harry Sokal is the saxophone player.
AF: Well, Harry was introduced to me by Fritz, and the other players I think Harry introduced to me. The bassist is actually not from Europe; he was born in South America, but he lives in Germany now — Paolo Cardoso. The drummer, Mario Gonzo(?), is Austrian-born. His father was a bass player. Gonzo is one of the most outstanding drummers in Europe, as far as I know, and I would be happy to have him playing with me any place that I can get him. We’ve played together quite a bit over in Europe. As you know, this is the first time that we’ve been able to come over here. Our trip was sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Institution. I guess they felt that it would be nice for it to be known that Jazz was also honored and respected in Austria, although Austria is one of the strongest homes of Classical European Music. But there is a large audience for Jazz there also, and I guess they thought that the other places should know that there is something happen over there. So I’m glad that it was made possible for me to bring the group over here. That’s certainly not to say that the groups that I play with here are not great in their own right. But just to have a little bit of difference, there’s no harm in that.
TP: It seems like Jazz had a special meaning to people who lived through the Second World War. Jazz had a certain political meaning to Europeans, it’s been written about by a number of people. Can you comment on that?
AF: Well, it seemed like the idea of Jazz would be more freedom, you know, where a person is able to do what they want to do, but they’re still thinking, as opposed to over here, where the idea of Jazz that we’ve had to fight for a long time was that Jazz was just an entertainment music, and you really don’t have to listen to it. That’s the American idea, that as long as you’re paying your money to get in, you don’t have to listen to it. You can talk and holler and scream, shout at each other, and bang your glasses on the table, whatever. You’re there to have a good time, and you’re paying for it, so nobody better not say anything about “be quiet!”
TP: That’s not so much the case in the European clubs?
AF: No, it’s not the case. It might be the case in some club where someone is playing music that induces that type of behavior. But I can’t say that it’s the case in the places where I play. You can’t hear a pin drop when you’re getting ready to solo!
TP: Do you think it’s a better educated audience?
AF: I think it must be, because they are really very attentive. Which makes a lot of sense. It’s crazy to think that people go into a club where you have a fifteen dollar music charge, and drinks are eight and nine and ten dollars a piece, and you have to have two drinks each set. If you have a date with you, you’re getting into some real money. Now, you’re going to sit there, and you’re paying for something that you’re not even listening to. And other people sitting next to you are hollering and screaming, and it’s just like if you go in restaurant and order a nice meal, and then somebody comes along and spits in your food.
TP: Now, I assume you’ve experienced rowdy crowds from your apprenticeship days.
AF: No. But some music encourages that kind of thing. Some people feel that if there’s not a lot of noise going on, they’re not having a good time. That’s the style of restaurants. They make the noise part of the ambiance. If it’s too quiet, people say, “Oh, this is a dead place, let’s go some place else.
TP: Vienna has been a fount of European musical culture over several hundred years, and its musical history is legend. How much has that tradition seeped its way into your aesthetic, your outlook on music?
AF: Oh, not much, because I already had that before I got there. That’s the way I felt about music. Music has always been a very serious part of my life, as far as I can remember. I didn’t have to go to Vienna for that. But it was certainly nice to go to a place where people like and respect music as much as they do. That doesn’t mean everyone does, but the people you see at the concerts certainly give you that idea.
TP: It seems that since you’ve been there, and this apparently is partly the responsibility of your pianist, Fritz Pauer, a couple of generations of very talented young Jazz musicians have emerged in Vienna and Austria.
AF: Oh, yes. There are some. There are some that are really doing it, and I’m sure that there will be more, because people do take the music seriously, and they know that if you really want to do something, you have to put your energy into it. It’s just not going to happen by itself. You just can’t talk about it but you have to do it.
AF: Thank you very much. It’s been my pleasure, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed here so long. And I never sit down and listen to four hours of my records. It’s the first time in my life.
TP: How has it been?
AF: It hasn’t been too bad.
TP: One or two things you cracked a smile on.
AF: A couple of winces there, but that’s about it.
[MUSIC: A. Farmer/S. Shihab/K. Drew/Thigpen, “Passport” (1981), AF/J. Heath, “Cocodrillo” (1970), AF/F. Pauer (duo), “Azure” (1987), AF/R. Mitchell, “A Bitty Ditty” (1974), A. Farmer/T.Harrell, “Santana” (1992), AF/Cliff, “Blame It On My Youth” (1988)]
* * *
Art Farmer (WKCR, 8-10-94):
Q: A few words about the present, the new CD at hand, and the group that you’re performing with. The two-trumpet concept, particularly one dealing with an improviser as lyrical and creative as Tom Harrell, who reminds a number of people of you, I think, in his approach to improvising.
AF: Well, the first time I did an album with another trumpet player was during the time I was playing with Lionel Hampton, and Clifford Brown was in the band, and we did some recording over in Sweden and some recording in Paris, and then later on in New York two trumpets with Donald Byrd, and then a little later on with three trumpets, with Idrees added. It seemed to be always something that wakes you up, when you listen to another trumpet player and you want to clearly define your own voice. You want to sound like yourself, so people can tell the difference, certainly. And I think one of the greatest records of all time that I have heard, and I never stop enjoying it, is “Double Talk” with Fats Navarro and Howard McGhee.
Q: How did this recording come about? How did you decide on Tom Harrell, first of all, and doing the two trumpet format, second.
AF: Well, I decided on Tom because I have been an admirer ever since I first heard him, I would say, maybe twenty years ago with Horace Silver. Not to say that there aren’t other fine trumpet players around that I’d be very happy to play with. But Tom was here, and he seemed to be very enthusiastic about the idea, as well as myself. So that’s how it came to be.
Q: After the second formation of the Jazztet disbanded, you’ve been working steadily in New York with various quintets, always with a saxophone in the front line, Clifford Jordan for many years, and now Jerome Richardson.
Q: I’d like you to say a few words about the very creative band you’re working with this week, which includes some of the strongest young players performing in Jazz right now.
AF: Yes. Well, we’ve been working with this same line-up for a year or so, especially the rhythm section. Jerome has just taken the place of Clifford. It was certainly wonderful to play with Clifford, because he and I went back many years.
Q: You were the front of…
AF: Horace Silver’s group.
Q: …almost forty years ago.
AF: Yes. And Jerome and I first played together with the great Oscar Pettiford, but not in a small group. Well, we might have done some gigs at some clubs down in the Village, Cafe Bohemia or something like that with Oscar. But the group that we have now, that I usually have, is the same group that’s on this record and that’s at Sweet Basil now, with an amazing pianist, Geoff Keezer, the truly also amazing Kenny Davis on bass, and Marvin Smitty Smith on drums. I can’t say how much of a pleasure it is to play with these people.
Q: One thing I’ve always been impressed with is how much leeway you give the performers in the group. You always seem to have very creative players, give them free rein to express their ideas, and you just go right with it, say your piece… Talk about your philosophy of group-leading.
AF: Well, I learned this actually from Lester Young when I was working with him. He said, you know, you hire people that play, and if they can play, well, that’s what you hired them for. If you’re not going to let them play, you shouldn’t have them there. You should have someone else.
Q: I said I wouldn’t talk about the past, but you brought up Clifford Brown, Lester Young and the old days for Prestige. Did you play with Lester Young when you were living in Los Angeles?
AF: No, never. Never. Never saw him there. I played with him here exclusively at Birdland, because every time he went into Birdland he brought in another horn. The original trumpet player was Jesse Drakes, and Jesse called me up one day and asked me did I want the gig, and I said, “Sure.” Lester had a contract for a certain amount of weeks every year, and when a date would come up he would call me and ask me if I could make it.
Q: This was ’53-’54-’55, something like that?
AF: No, it was just about the same time I was working with Horace. So it was in the Fifties, the mid-Fifties.
Q: According to the information I’ve read, you got to Los Angeles when you were about 17 years old, and you were born in Iowa and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Just a few words about your origins in music. You seem like the type of person who has been playing ever since you could pick up an instrument.
AF: Yeah, that’s true. At that time it was very customary to have a piano in the house, and someone played it. There were a lot of music students in our family, and it just seemed the natural thing to take piano lessons.
Q: Your parents?
AF: Yes. My mother played the piano in the church choir. So I had been hearing music ever since I could hear. I started with the piano because it was there. Then someone later on gave me a violin, so I played that some, but I didn’t hear anyone playing Jazz on it in Arizona, so I gravitated towards horns — and that’s how it happened.
Q: How did the sound of Jazz enter your ears? Was it just around you all the time?
AF: No. It was on the radio. There was a lot of airplay for Jazz then. They had big bands playing for dances, and all kind of wonderful things happening. The first live music that I heard actually was the real Country Blues, because I used to sell papers, and I would walk around in the migrant workers’ camps and sell them papers, and after work they would be sitting around, playing and singing, playing the Blues on the guitar or whatever.
But I heard all this Big Band Jazz on the radio. Then when the Second World War came into being, there was an Army camp there, and I heard the Army dance band. There was one guy who is still around here in New York now by the name of George Kelly, and he was in the band, and he used to come around to our rehearsals and help us out. He was a great guy. He used to write arrangements for us. But that’s the first time I heard a big band live, was the U.S. Army band.
Q: Were you playing trumpet by then?
AF: Yes, I had started. And some of the traveling bands would come through on one-nighters. The greatest thing in life that I could imagine was to hear these bands. It was so exciting that it never has left me.
Q: You mentioned specifically in the liner notes for an older record being impressed by the trumpet section of the Lunceford band.
AF: Right, the Lunceford band was great. They had some fine trumpet players. But just the sound of their section was…it just blew the top of my head off!
Q: When you began to improvise on the trumpet, who were the people who inspired you in forming your own mode of expression?
AF: Well, people such as Dud Bascomb, Roy Eldridge — the ones who came there. Then I heard Dizzy Gillespie on a record with Billy Eckstine, and that really turned me around completely.
Q: You were about 16 years old then.
AF: Yeah, around that age.
Q: Along with many other people who were born around when you were, who came up right under the excitement of this whole group of musicians. A few words about the impression that it made on you.
AF: Well, it’s hard to express my excitement in a few words, but…
Q: You play so concisely, I’m sure you can do it!
AF: But I had heard the Swing trumpet players, like I mentioned, Dud Bascomb and the people who played with Lunceford and Jay McShann and Tiny Bradshaw, etcetera. When I heard Dizzy, that was completely a revelation. I just wondered where he found those notes, you know, that sounded so different from what everyone else was playing. And it’s not to say that the other players were not playing good, but he was into another universe as far as picking notes to play. A lot of guys, me included, were certainly excited. And his great technique, the fact that he could play so high and play so clearly. But if you slowed down, you could hear that the notes were something that no one else was doing. He was really a harmonic pioneer for a horn player. There have been pianists who were playing great notes, like Art Tatum, but Dizzy was the first one I heard that really was playing notes like that on a horn, and that, as I said, before, turned me upside-down.
Q: Had you heard that before you went to Los Angeles at 17?
AF: I heard the records but I didn’t hear Dizzy until I went to Los Angeles.
Q: So you heard the group at Billy Berg’s and so forth at that time?
AF: Yes, I went there.
Q: And that really turned you around, I gather! You decided to stay in Los Angeles and finish high school there.
Q: A few words about that process. You and your brother, Addison, went to Los Angeles for a vacation, the story goes…
AF: Yes, we went there for a summer vacation in 1945, and the scene was so active that we decided just to stay there. Our mother said it was okay with her as long as we graduated from high school. So we enrolled in a great high school by the name of Thomas Jefferson that had a wonderful teacher named Samuel Brown. There were other active players such as Dexter Gordon, who went to that school a few years in front of us, and others such as Sonny Criss and Cecil McNeely, who later on turned out to be a great Rock star by the name of Big Jay McNeely. Hampton Hawes was around. So they were very interesting young guys to run around with.
So we just went to school there. We would write our own excuses, just as if we were living with our parents. And so we developed a very good reputation like that!
Q: I guess being in Los Angeles at a time like that, when so much was going on, must have just been the best for a young musician.
AF: Oh, yes. Well, as far as being in the right place at the right time, I’ve been lucky all my life. I’ve been very lucky to be in Los Angeles at that time, and then to be here — looking back, to be able to have played with the people that I’ve played with.
Q: It seems like there was a little design involved in that process as well.
AF: There was some. When I played with Lester, when I played with Coleman Hawkins; you know, it’s just fantastic to look back on experiences like that.
Q: Also you got to meet Charlie Parker when you were out there.
Q: It seems that that had an indelible effect on your aesthetic.
AF: Well, the Jazz community was like an extended family, and if you were in there with them, you would meet whoever it was in there. The people were very nice to younger people. If they saw that you were serious and what you were doing, why, then, they would help you in any way they could. You didn’t have to feel hesitant to ask them any questions. So long as you knew the questions to ask, they would be there. And there wasn’t any attitude, “Well, I’m too busy to bother with you.” And that goes for Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and all the guys that I had the good fortune to meet.
Q: It seems coming up and listening first to the trumpet players from the Swing bands must really have given you a sense of melodic necessity…
AF: Yes, certainly.
Q: And it seems that your distillation of Parker and Gillespie has concentrated on that aspect of what we do. Can you comment on that?
AF: Yes. Well, if you listen to guys like Roy Eldridge and Dud Bascomb, you certainly are going to have a sense of melody. Because they were basically very melodic players, especially Dud Bascomb, who was a real story-teller if there ever was one. You never hear his name, but I remember Miles used to copy his solos note for note — of course, not only Miles. But he really spoke when he played. So that’s where the urge to create melodic solos came from on my part. Because at that time there were trumpet players who were called Ride Players. The ensemble parts that say “Ride Solo,” where you just sort of Jazz the melody. But then when players like Bascomb and Ray Nance came along, well, they really created their own things, and they were so interesting and so beautiful.
Q: Art Farmer seems never to have discarded anything that he’s picked up, and it all seems to come together every year in something new, different tunes and so forth. We’ll hear a tune that’s sort of the antithesis of what Art Farmer seems like to me. It’s called “I’m Old Fashioned”, and it’s taken from a recording on Enja called Soul Eyes that was taken I guess live to DAT at one of the Japanese Blue Note clubs in 1991.
[MUSIC: “I’m Old Fashioned” (1991), “TGTT” (1994)]
Q: You’ve been recording Ellington always, and there’s one amazing album of all Strayhorn compositions done for Contemporary with Clifford Jordan, and another from the Seventies with Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Billy Higgins. “TGTT” you said comes from the Second Sacred Concert.
AF: Yes, this was made aware to me by Geoff Keezer, and it was recorded by the Ellington Orchestra, the Second Sacred Concert, as a vocal with the singer Alice Babs singing, and it was done in 3/4 time.
Q: Were you able to see the Ellington band much as a youngster?
AF: No. No, not that often.
Q: But were you very influenced by it, though?
AF: Oh, very much influenced by the Ellington band. I saw the band, first of all, in Los Angeles at the Million Dollar Theater, and since then I saw the band every chance I had. Of course, I don’t see it now because they don’t work in New York any more. But it certainly was an education to me, and I liked the way the trumpet players played very much.
Q: They were all true individualists in that trumpet section.
AF: Yes, very much so!
Q: [ETC.] Did you work with Mingus in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s in Los Angeles?
AF: No, I never worked with him there. Shortly after I went there, then he left. He had one period where he didn’t work as a musician, then he went to work with the Red Norvo Trio, and after that he settled down here in New York City.
Q: You did share an employer, though, Lionel Hampton…
AF: Yes, but…
Q: Of course at a different time.
AF: I worked with Mingus here in the City on various projects, so we knew each other and were pretty good friends.
Q: I just want to ask about a couple of the people you’ve encountered and played next to over the years. One of the first you mentioned coming up here was playing alongside Clifford Brown in the Lionel Hampton Band in 1953, I guess.
Q: A few words about Clifford Brown, and your relationship.
AF: Well, Clifford Brown is known for being a person that no one has ever found a bad word to say about him. He was really exceptional. He was just a warm, beautiful person. And he played so good, he didn’t have to say that he was good. He didn’t have to say that anyone else was bad. He just went ahead and played.
Q: Would you say his sound was pretty much fully formed around the time when you were together?
AF: Yes, I would say so, certainly. He was already recorded, and every record I ever heard he made was a masterpiece.
Q: Gerry Mulligan, who you worked alongside for several years in a pianoless quartet and who wrote a commissioned piece for you in last Friday’s concert at Lincoln Center.
AF: Yeah. Well, Gerry is playing better than ever. Some people I know were amazed at the way he was playing Friday night. He’s always been a very good player, but now he’s an example of somebody who never stops…who just doesn’t find their style and just go through the motions, but he’s always stepping forward. I just find the things the does very creative, and certainly it was a pleasure to play with him. It was a pleasure with him again, just as it was a pleasure to play with Benny Golson again.
Q: That’s the next name I was about to mention. That’s a relationship that goes back 35 years or more.
AF: Right. Well, I also met Benny through working with the Lionel Hampton band. I have to say that Lionel Hampton has been a great benefactor to Jazz music in this world, in the fact that he has given a start to so many people such as myself, and given us a chance to meet other people of our ambitions. Working with the Lionel Hampton Band was a key to the Jazz Universe, in a certain sense, you know, working with Brownie and Gigi Gryce and Quincy Jones and Monk Montgomery, James Cleveland. I don’t know where I would have gotten such a chance to work alongside these guys every night as with Lionel Hampton.
Q: I think that may be one of the distinguishing things that separates musicians who came up around when you did from people who came up after, that there were still functioning big bands where you could get that type of night-after-night practical experience.
AF: Yes, that’s right. That’s very rare now. That’s very rare. Maybe you could count them on one hand. Other than Count Basie, it’s hard to think of anyone else who’s out there.
Q: Extending from Benny Golson, another superb composer, not so well known in the States, but who you work with frequently in Europe, in Vienna, is Fritz Pauer, who you will be bringing here in November.
AF: Yes. He is scheduled to come over with us in November. Well, Fritz is very well known to Jazz musicians who tour Europe and happen to go to Vienna, Austria. Everyone who has had a chance to… He’s played with everybody over there. I mean, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, I can’t think of anybody who ever did a thing that Fritz didn’t play with either in Vienna or in Berlin. He’s a great writer. He’s one of those guys like Gigi Gryce who write all the time. You know, you don’t have to tell him to write something. I just let him write whatever he wants to write, and he brings it in.
Q: He knows you.
AF: Yes, we’ve known each other for quite a while now.
Q: Again, you live in Vienna a good chunk of the year, and tour for part of it. How does that work for you?
AF: Well, I spend about 40 percent over here, and I would say about 30 percent I’m at home in Vienna, and other times I’m traveling somewhere else.