From 1988 to 1999 I was honored to study privately with the greatest flugelhornist in the world: Art Farmer.
I met Art in 1988 when my friend, bassist Peter Herbert, introduced us to one another at the Village Vanguard in New York City.
Twin brothers Art and Addison Farmer were born in Council Bluffs, Iowa. When they were 4 their family moved to Phoenix.
As a grade school student in Phoenix, Art studied piano, violin and trumpet.
Art joined a Phoenix dance band when he was a teenager. He learned to improvise by soloing over the band's stock big band arrangements.
At the end of the 1950s Art formed the Jazztet with sextet saxophonist Benny Golson.
The Jazztet broke up in 1962, and Art started another group, this time partnering with guitarist Jim Hall.
In the 60s Art focused his energies on the flugelhorn. The bigger horn's warm sound perfectly suited Art's lyrical approach to improvisation.
One time I asked Art why I hadn't been able to get a richer sound on the flugelhorn. He said, "Man, if you want to play the Big Horn, then really play it. Put away that little trumpet. Just practice the flugel. Just play the flugel. That's the only way."
In 1968, when work grew sparse in New York, Art moved to Vienna, Austria to join a radio jazz orchestra. Vienna became his home, and he even started a family there. But he never stopped touring and recording. He traveled constantly.
This "noir" photo of Art was given to me by the photographer, my friend Lee Tanner.
I love this picture of Art, with his Reunion Blues gig bag over his shoulder, happy after the Jazztet reunion in 1982.
In 1996 I was privileged to help my friends at the Stanford Jazz Workshop produce this live recording of my mentor.
In 1999 I met up with Art and his companion Lynne Mueller at the IAJE conference in Anaheim. Art was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, the highest honor that our nation bestows upon a jazz musician. I was so proud.
What a thrill it was for me to see those huge banners, with Art's picture on them, all over Disneyland.
Look at that sincere, heartfelt grin!
Around the same time, Art was also recognized by the Austrian government with this medal. I liked the way he said the name: the "Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class." He gave a sly little wink at that last bit: First Class.
Art was a naturally gifted and intuitive teacher. He knew when to encourage you and when to "tell it like it is." One of the last things he said to me was, "Dmitri, you play beautifully, but you need to take more chances harmonically. Listen to Ingrid [Jensen] and check out how she stretches and reaches for new things when she plays. That's what I'm talking about."
It impressed me that no matter how busy or exhausted Art was, he always took the time to visit with anyone who expressed interest in his music, especially children.
When the movie A Great Day in Harlem was released, I made sure that all my musician friends knew which of the jazz gods stands at the apex of the pyramid in the famous photo!
David Monette created a hybrid instrument for Art called the "flumpet," combining characteristics of both the flugelhorn and the trumpet.
Art was very proud of the custom instrument, which had lots of interesting carvings in the bell that were significant to him [including the initials of his hero, "C.B.," Clifford Brown].
At Art's memorial, much music was played; few words were spoken. Art would definitely have approved.
The New York memorial was at St. Peter's Church, and many musicians came to pay their respects. Here Billy Taylor and I are playing Ellington's "Warm Valley," Art's signature ballad. I was honored to play one of Art's flugelhorns, a silver plated Benge with French Besson valves.
We also held a memorial concert in San Francisco, at Old First Church. Art's longtime companion Lynne Mueller flew all the way from New York to attend. Here Ruth Davies and I are joined by the Del Sol String Quartet, performing a composition I wrote in memory of Art.
After Art died, I inherited his copper bell Kanstul. His name is still visible, etched on the side. This is the horn I play today.
Established in 1999, the Art Farmer Jazz Scholarship Fund provides merit-based financial assistance awards to promising young students of jazz.