Arthur Stewart “Art” Farmer (trumpet / flugelhorn) was born on August 21, 1928 in Council Bluffs, Iowa and passed away on October 4, 1999 in New York City at the age of 71.
Arthur Stewart Farmer was born on August 21, 1928 in Council Bluffs, Iowa to a musical family. The Farmer family moved to Phoenix, Arizona when he and his twin brother, the future bassist Addison Farmer, were four years old. Art began his musical education by studying the piano and violin for three years in elementary school before taking up the sousaphone in order to perform in a marching band.
Soon after, Farmer began to perform on the trumpet after being asked to play the bugle for school functions. At the age of fifteen, joined a dance band that played standard arrangements of compositions by bandleaders Count Basie and Duke Ellington and Jimmie Lunceford. During this time, Art would frequently invite touring groups that were traveling through Phoenix back to his house to jam.
In 1945, at the age of sixteen, Art and Addison moved to Los Angeles where they engrossed themselves in the lively jazz scene situated around Central Avenue. Their move was contingent upon the promise to their parents that they would finish high school. Art attended Jefferson High School, were he studied with a teacher named Samuel Browne, who was also the teacher of trumpeter Don Cherry, pianist Hampton Hawes, and saxophonist Frank Morgan.
While living in Los Angeles, Art and Addison had the pleasure of seeing such luminaries as alto saxophonists Sonny Criss, Eric Dolphy, and Charlie Parker. While there, Art performed in ensembles led by bandleaders Horace Anderson, Floyd Ray and Benny Carter.
Soon after, Farmer joined a group led by bandleader Johnny Otis. With Otis, Art gained substantial touring experience, whom he toured with to New York City. Shortly after, he joined bandleader Jay McShann’s group, and toured the South and Southwest United States. After performing with McShann, he went back to Los Angeles where took various day jobs to support himself while performing with trumpeter Gerald Wilson and tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon.
Shortly after, Art performed with drummer Roy Porter and pianist Joe Turner before joining vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s band in the autumn of 1952. Included in the band at this time were trumpeters Clifford Brown and Quincy Jones and saxophonist Gigi Gryce.
Farmer left Hampton’s group after a year and a half, and also left Los Angeles to make New York City his home. There, he performed with Frank Morgan and saxophonist Teddy Edwards. In 1953, Art performed in vibraphonist Teddy Charles’s group New Directions alongside bassist Charles Mingus. The same year, Farmer recorded Farmer Septet, his debut as a leader. The album featured contributions from drummer Kenny Clarke, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, and pianist Horace Silver amongst others.
Throughout the mid 1950s, Farmer performed with drummer Art Blakey, tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and pianist Thelonious Monk. In 1956, Art performed with Horace Silver as well as leading a quartet called Farmer’s Market with tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and drummer Elvin Jones. After two years with Silver, Art performed in a small group led by baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.
In 1958, Farmer released the album Modern Art featuring two original compositions as well as standards such as “Darn That Dream” and “Like Someone in Love.” A highlight of the record is the song “Jubilation,” which features Addison Farmer, Benny Golson, pianist Bill Evans and drummer Dave Bailey.
The song begins with an eight bar introduction with the entire group playing a melodic line in harmony. The introduction perfectly establishes a funky, laid-back feel. Art’s solo is a flawless example of his advanced harmonic knowledge, which he demonstrates by taking a small concept and slowly building it over the course of the solo. Art begins his solo by using short bursts before effortlessly flowing into longer phrases towards the end.
1958 also saw Farmer performing on Mulligan’s album What Is There To Say? A shining example of Farmer’s work with Mulligan is the song “Festive Minor.” Art takes full advantage of the piano less by utilizing the space that a chordal instrument would take up. Farmer and Mulligan blend together seamlessly with the two horns mirroring each other’s part, providing an attractive counterpoint. Mulligan’s use of sustained notes almost acts like a chordal device with Farmer easily providing a contrapuntal line over it.
Upon leaving the Mulligan group in 1959, he led a group with Gigi Gryce and performed and recorded with saxophonist Tony Ortega. The same year, Farmer and Benny Golson formed a sextet entitled Jazztet alongside Addison Farmer, pianist McCoy Tyner, trombonist Curtis Fuller and drummer Lex Humphries.
The following year, Jazztet released their debut album, Meet the Jazztet. The ensemble is in top form on the Golson-penned composition “Park Avenue Petite.” Tyner begins the song with a short introduction that encapsulates the melancholy character of the song. Art displays his talent for the ballad form by articulating his notes with a sense of sadness to fully illustrate the quality of the ensemble’s performance. Tyner’s use of full and lush chords further demonstrates the ensemble’s overall tone.
During this time, Art began to perform on the flugelhorn on a more frequent basis, which resulted in a different melodic resonance. In 1962, Jazztet disbanded and in November 1962, Farmer and guitarist Jim Hall formed a quartet featuring bassist Steve Swallow and drummers Walter Perkins and Pete LaRoca. Unfortunately on February 20, 1963, Addison died unexpectedly at the age of thirty-four. In 1964, Steve Kuhn replaced Hall and beginning in 1965, Farmer led a quintet with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath.
In 1968, Farmer moved to Vienna, Austria after being invited to join the Austrian Radio Orchestra. Art also began to perform with the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band and trombonist Peter Herbolzheimer. Though at this time he was based in Vienna, Art regularly toured throughout the United States where he would perform with local rhythm sections.
In 1977, Farmer formed a quartet that toured throughout the United States, Europe and Japan. Throughout the late 1970s, his quartet included saxophonist Harry Sokal, pianist Fritz Pauer, bassists Heiri Kanzig and Paulo Cardoso, drummers Mario Gonzi and Joris Dudli. In 1982, Art re-formed Jazztet with Benny Golson and toured and recorded with them throughout the late 1980s. For the reunion, Art and Benny were able to get the group’s original trombonist Curtis Fuller to participate.
Throughout the early 1980s, Farmer performed with tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman and recorded as a co-leader with trombonist Slide Hampton. In 1984, a book of his solos were published by Rottenberg Press as Art Farmer Solos. In 1985, Art’s group was featured at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, which was broadcast on the PBS television network. During the late 1980s, his quartet featured saxophonists Clifford Jordan, Jerome Richardson and Frank Morgan.
In 1987, Art and Fritz Pauer recorded an album of duos. Entitled Azure, the album featured several originals, standards and even a traditional Austrian folk song. Beginning in 1989, Farmer performed on a hybrid instrument designed by craftsman David Monette that took the mechanics of the trumpet and flugelhorn. Calling it the “flumpet,” Art performed on the instrument during his late career. In 1990, Farmer led a group that featured pianist Cedar Walton,bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Higgins.
In 1994, Farmer was awarded the “Austrian Gold Metal of Merit.” In August 1994, Lincoln Center held a concert honoring his lifetime musical achievements. The concert featured performances from Gerry Mulligan, Ron Carter, and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis amongst others. In September 1994, Art performed composer Joseph Haydn’s First Trumpet Concerto with the Austrian-Hungarian Haydn Philharmonic Orchestra.
Throughout his late career, Farmer performed with saxophonist Ron Blake, pianist Ted Rosenthal, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Yoron Israel. In the final years of his life, Art kept a residence in Manhattan and equally divided his time between Vienna and New York City.
Farmer passed away from cardiac arrest on Monday, October 4, 1999 in New York City. Art is survived by his manager and companion Lynne Mueller, his sister Mauvolene Thomas and his son Georg. In 2001, Art was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.