One of my favorite players on the scene currently is Ingrid Jensen. Ingrid is inspiring because she's expanding the vocabulary for trumpet and flugelhorn, extending the innovations of Kenny Wheeler and Woody Shaw in a very personal and compelling way.
Incidentally, Art Farmer was also a fan of Ingrid. He predicted that she will ultimately be recognized as a major artist of historical significance.
I try to phrase like a singer, so I listen to a lot of vocalists, especially Ella Fitzgerald. And because I favor a melodic, lyrical approach to improvisation, most of the jazz instrumentalists I listen to are also from that tradition -- people like Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Art Farmer and Ben Webster.
It's a remarkable gift, to meet your hero, the world's acknowledged master on your instrument, and for him to ultimately become your teacher and friend. Miraculously, it happened to me, and I will be forever grateful.
Mentor-protege relationships in jazz are so important. It's wonderful that colleges, conservatories and other institutions are now embracing jazz education, but I feel strongly that our master musicians need to maintain the lineage of the oral tradition.
There are some things you just can't learn in school.
Art Farmer had a comfortable life in Vienna, with a house, a family and a steady gig as soloist with the radio orchestra there, but he never rested on his laurels. He continued to practice every day and develop as an artist, maintaining his profile, recording and touring internationally right up until the very end of his life.
When Art died, Billy Taylor and I performed a duet at his memorial, and I was honored to play one of Art's flugelhorns. This is the horn I play today: a custom hybrid with an American Kanstul bell, French Besson lead-pipe and English Besson valves. I treasure this one-of-a-kind instrument, but I'll probably go to my grave trying to figure out how Art was able to produce such a gorgeous tone.
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.