Art Farmer made over 200 recordings, many of them brilliant, but to my ears his masterpiece is Warm Valley on the Concord label. Art was at the top of his game, and the tunes he picked for the date are perfect showcases for the effortless logic of his improvisations. His band on the recording was one of his best, and they all give great performances. Akira Tana's playing on "Three Little Words," for example, is absolutely killing.
Art Farmer was my mentor and was one of the wisest and kindest men I've ever met. My years under his tutelage were an invaluable part of my education. Art was my finishing school, and I'm profoundly grateful to him for how generous he was with his time, sharing his wisdom about music and life.
Art taught me what to value in this craft of jazz: the importance of taking risks and challenging yourself, yet never losing the fundamental primacy of playing in tune with a mature tone above all.
He would say, "Fill that horn with air! It doesn't matter how hip you can play if you don't maintain a good sound." And he really walked the talk, developing a tone so rich, round and warm, it has become the gold standard for anyone who is serious about the big horn.
New York is Jazz Mecca. It's the place to go if you want to meet great musicians and gain experience as a sideman.
And L.A. is cool because you can see movie stars on the street.
But San Francisco has always been my favorite American city. As Tony Bennett says, "San Francisco is America's Paris," so culturally rich and so livable, and the second largest jazz market in the country.
I originally came from Boston to play at the Monterey Jazz Festival, but when I took that breathtaking drive down Highway One along the Pacific Coast, I immediately fell in love with the area and decided to stay.
The question for me has always been, when I come home from the road, where do I want to come home to? We musicians travel quite a bit to make our living. Each place we visit has its unique charms, but when you spend so much of your life in hotels and airports, living out of a suitcase, your home really needs to be a sanctuary; a place that feeds your soul.
I credit my father [a naturalist and school teacher] and his hip record collection for kindling my childhood interest in music. There was great music on our turntable all the time, from Rachmaninoff to Ray Charles.
According to Dad, one time when I was about five, he was spinning Kind of Blue. I asked, "Daddy what's that sound?" When he answered, "That's Miles Davis, a jazz musician." I responded, "Well, that's what I want to be when I grow up!"
The story may be apocryphal, but Miles is still my man.
Toward the end of high school, I left home to attend a private boarding school in Michigan called Interlochen Arts Academy.
Interlochen was for me a magical place, populated by individualists, social misfits, and eccentrics — kids who, like me, were passionate about art.
I loved Interlochen. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by creative people my own age: musicians, painters, actors, dancers...it was like coming home. Interlochen was where I learned the discipline required to build a life in the arts, and where I learned how rewarding an artist's life can be.
When I was twelve, my Dad and I moved west from Georgia to Arizona. I spent my formative years there, and I still feel a strong connection to the landscape.
The desert gives you a perspective. It calms your spirit and invites contemplation, in much the same way that the ocean does in California. Play your horn into those canyons and foothills, and you'll experience for yourself the Japanese concept of ma, the sacred silence between sounds.
Despite deeply entrenched racial and class tensions, the south is a beautiful, soulful place. People smile at you and look you in the eye. Neighbors know one another.
Growing up in the south has given me a deep appreciation of human warmth and kindness; of southern hospitality. If you come to my show, I'm the host and you're my guest. It's my job to make you feel welcome and comfortable so we can enjoy each other's company.
The south also gave me a love of the blues and spirituals, and ingrained in me a relaxed pace -- the southern stroll. I imagine you can hear these influences in my music.
"You've got to know your limitations.
I don't know what your limitations are.
I found out what mine were when I was twelve.
I found out that there weren't too many limitations,
if I did it my way."