Farmer, Art(hur Stewart) 1928–1999
Art(hur Stewart) Farmer 1928–1999
Trumpeter Art Farmer performed with many of jazz’s finest musicians for five decades. “Farmer was one of the most swinging and sensitive improvisers,” wrote Eugene Holley in Down Beat, “a player who extracted the essence of a composition’s melodic and harmonic content through his ebullient and efficient improvisations.” Farmer began his career on the West Coast, playing with a number of bands in the late 1940s, led his own bands in the 1950s, and moved to Europe at the end of the 1960s. He also gained recognition for his willingness to stretch the boundaries of his musicianship, first by playing the flugelhorn and later by using an instrument called a flumpet. Bob Young commented in the Boston Herald, “As warm a person as he was a trumpeter and fluegelhornist, Farmer was an unassuming master at putting a club or concert hall full of listeners at ease.”
Farmer was born in 1928 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. He began playing the trumpet at the age of 14 and continued his lessons under Samuel Browne when he moved to Los Angeles with his brother in 1945. Farmer also found work on Central Avenue, the jazz center of Los Angeles, where he played with Horace Henderson and Johnny Otis. “It was difficult to get a job playing Bebop,” he told Steve Voce in the Independent, “but we always had a lot of sessions going on.” Farmer moved to New York City in 1947 where he freelanced for a year and studied under Maurice Grupp.
When Farmer returned to Los Angeles, he worked and toured with Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson, and Dexter Gordon. He attended his first recording sessions in 1948 with blues shouter Joe Turner and pianist Jay McShann. In 1951-52 he played with Wardell Gray. “Wardell was really a great guy,” Farmer told Lazaro Vega in All About Jazz. “He was the first person that I would see every day that really knew what was going on as far as the music was concerned.” In 1953 Farmer toured with Lionel Hampton’s big band. On a trip to Europe, Farmer and his band mates were under strict orders not to perform with bands other than Hampton’s. Farmer, however, along with Clifford Brown and Quincy Jones, made a habit of crawling out of their hotel windows to attend late night sessions in France and Scandinavia. “The Lionel Hampton band was a great experience,” Farmer told Voce, “like going to school in a way, because you learned from the environment.”
Born on August 21, 1928, in Council Bluffs, IA; died on October 4, 1999, in New York, NY; married; one son.
Career: Worked with Wardell Cray, 1951-22; toured Europe with Lionel Hampton, 1953; joined Gigi Gryce, 1954-56, Horace Silver’s Quintet, 1956-58, and the Gerry Mulligan Quintet, 1958-59; co-led group with Benny Golson, 1959-62, and with Jim Hall, 1962-64; toured Europe, 1965; relocated to Europe, 1968, and performed with the Austrian Radio Orchestra; recorded a series of albums for CTI and Inner City, 1970s; reformed Jazztet with Golson, 1982; began playing a flumpet, a combination of flugeihorn and trumpet, 1991.
In the 1950s Farmer recorded a series of albums as a leader, including Early Art in 1954 and Modern Art in 1958. He worked successively with Gigi Gryce, Horace Silver, and the Gerry Mulligan Quartet in the 1950s. Farmer also appeared in the 1958 photograph titled “A Great Day in Harlem,” a picture that included 57 jazz musicians. “There was never a group like that with so many great musicians in one spot,” Farmer recalled to David Simpson in the Virginian Pilot. “There were many of the greatest jazz musicians around including many who were my idols—Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Count Basie, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins.”
In 1959 Farmer formed a sextet with Benny Golson, which they called the Jazztet. The Independent noted that “the Jazztet played typically tasteful music, but despite some good recordings and much praise from the critics it had to break up from lack of work after three years.” During this time Farmer began playing the mellower flugelhorn along with the trumpet. When he formed a quartet with guitarist Jim Hall in 1962, however, he relied exclusively on the flugelhorn. “It seemed to me that the sound … would go better with Jim’s sound,” he told Vega of All About Jazz, “so I decided to stick with the flugeihorn.”
In 1965 Farmer traveled to Europe as a solo act and remained for six months. He told Voce, “When I left I was just planning on staying for a month, but then the chance came to go to Stockholm and I just stretched out.” In 1968 Farmer, like many other jazz artists of the time, relocated to Europe. Farmer explained to Vega, “One of the things that I like about living and working in Europe that’s not the case over here…is that there’s more activity in smaller cities.” Farmer made his home base in Vienna and joined the Austrian Radio Orchestra. He also met his wife in Vienna. “The band didn’t last,” he told the Virginian Pilot, “but by the time it ended, I had a family.”
During the 1970s Farmer toured Asia and recorded a series of albums for Inner City and CTI. To Duke with Love was recorded a year after Duke Ellington’s death, and featured classic pieces like “Lush Life” and “In a Sentimental Mood.” “This tasteful set … features Art Farmer at his best,” wrote Scott Yanow in All Music Guide. In 1982 Farmer and Golson toured and recorded with the re-formed Jazztet. Although Farmer continued to live in Vienna, he maintained a contract requiring him to play at the Sweet Basil in New York three times a year, and these shows served as the base for his United States tours.
In 1991 Farmer began playing an instrument called the flumpet, designed by David Monette. As he described it to Simpson, “The timbre is darker than the trumpet and a little bit lighter than a fluegelhorn.” In 1999 Farmer began to suffer from memory loss and was diagnosed with Korsakoff disease. However, the diagnosis proved incorrect, and he planned to continue performing. In June of 1999 he played with his quartet at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles. Don Heckman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “It was a convincing demonstration of the splendid ability of jazz, and of a talented jazz artist, to produce music unaffected by the tides of fashion or the demands of commerce.” Before Farmer could completely recover his health, however, he died of a heart attack on October 4, 1999. Fellow musician Benny Golson told Down Beat that “his absence from the jazz scene leaves a void that will not be filled in my lifetime.”
Art Farmer Quintet, Original Jazz Classics, 1955.
Meet the Jazztet, MCA/Chess, 1960.
Here and Now, Mercury, 1962.
Live at the Half Note, Atlantic, 1963.
The Time and the Place, Columbia, 1967.
To Duke with Love, Inner City, 1975.
Something You Got, King, 1977.
Work of Art, Concord, 1981.
Warm Valley, Concord, 1982.
Real Time, Contemporary, 1986.
Something to Live For: The Music of Billy Stray-horn, Contemporary, 1987.
Blame It on My Youth, Contemporary, 1988.
Central Avenue Reunion, Contemporary, 1989.
All Music Guide to Jazz, edited by Michael Erlewine, Miller Freeman, 1998.
Boston Herald, October 8, 1999, p. 26.
Down Beat, January 2000, p. 18.
Independent (London, England), October 8, 1999, p.6.
Los Angeles Times, June 28, 1996, p. 6.
Virginian Pilot, April 28, 1998, p. El.
All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com
Biography Resource Center, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
"Farmer, Art(hur Stewart) 1928–1999." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/farmer-arthur-stewart-1928-1999
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