A highly melodic soloist, with inventive turns of phase and a frequently elegiac approach to his music. Study of his work over several decades reveals an artist of considerable emotional depths which he plumbed more and more as the years passed. In a quiet, unassuming manner, which reflected his personality, Farmer proved hard to pigeonhole.
Descriptions of Farmer’s playing style typically stress his lyricism and the warmth of his sound. His playing had “a sweetly lyrical tone and a melodic approach to phrasing, neither of which minimized his capacity to produce rhythmically swinging phrases.
Farmer avoided the bright, penetrating sound of orthodox trumpet playing and was influenced by the more reserved articulation of Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham, and that, although he could seem more restrained than Davis or Lee Morgan, Farmer was in his way a true original. His phrasing was always distinctive, letting the beat run ahead of him rather in the manner of Billie Holiday’s vocals.
Farmer moved from trumpet to playing mostly flugelhorn from the early 1960s, utilising the latter instrument’smore mellow sound and Farmer’s ability to get what he wanted from it without having to use a mute. In 1989, he played a major part in creating a trumpet–flugelhorn hybrid, the flumpet, which was constructed for him by instrument maker David Monette.
Farmer recorded more than 50 albums under his own name, a dozen with the Jazztet, and dozens more with other leaders. His playing is known for its individuality – most noticeably, its lyricism, warmth of tone and sensitivity.
In 1999 Farmer was selected as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. A few months later, on October 4, Farmer died of a heart attack at home in Manhattan, aged 71.