One of the more lyrical of the post-bop musicians, Art Farmer helped to popularize the flugelhorn in jazz. Later in his career, he switched to a hybrid instrument known as the flumpet, an instrument that combined the power of the trumpet with the warmth of the flugelhorn.
He and his twin brother, bassist Addison Farmer, were raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Farmer took up the piano, violin, and tuba before settling on the trumpet at 14. He later moved to Los Angeles and worked with Horace Henderson and Floyd Ray, eventually traveling east to New York with the Johnny Otis Revue in 1947. In New York, he studied with Maurice Grupp and freelanced in the clubs. In 1948 he returned to the West Coast and found work with Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson, Roy Porter, Jay McShann, and Wardell Gray. He toured with Lionel Hampton in 1952-53, moving once again to New York after the tour.
Between 1954-56, he intermittently co-led a band with Gigi Gryce, then joined Horace Silver from 1956-58. He played with Gerry Mulligan from 1958-59, with whom he appeared in two films: I Want to Live and The Subterraneans. Farmer's performances with the various groups earned him a reputation for being able to play in any style.
Greater fame came in the flourishing of the Jazztet, the legendary sextet that he co-led with saxophonist Benny Golson from 1959 to 1962 and then again for several years starting in 1982. The Jazztet's tightly arranged music defined mainstream jazz for several years. In the early 1960s, Farmer switched to the flugelhorn, finding a rounder, mellower sound with the instrument. He also co-led a band with guitarist Jim Hall until 1964. He worked in Europe from 1965-66, and when he returned stateside he again co-led a band, this time with Jimmy Heath. In 1968 Farmer moved to Vienna, joined the Austrian Radio Orchestra, and worked with such European outfits as the Clarke- Boland Big Band, and Peter Herbolzheimer.
In the 1980s, Farmer formed a new quintet featuring Clifford Jordan, which performed regularly in New York and toured Japan. At the same time, Farmer continued to perform in Europe with his European band that included pianist Fritz Pauer. In 1991, he began using the flumpet especially designed for him by David Monette. In 1994, he was the recipient of the prestigious Austrian Gold Medal of Merit and, also, a Lifetime Achievement Concert was held at Jazz at Lincoln Center in his honor. In 1998 and 1999, he toured with his quintet in celebration of the Academy Award-nominated film A Great Day in Harlem.
When Farmer Met Gryce, Original Jazz Classics, 1954-55
The Jazztet, Meet the Jazztet, MCA/Chess, 1960Live at the Half Note, Atlantic, 1963Blame It on My Youth, Contemporary, 1988Silk Road, Arabesque, 1996