Art Farmer had a way of playing the trumpet and flugelhorn that sounded as if he was dancing or singing. Farmer was less about blasts and taut nuance and more about a light, pretty touch. His horn had a classical elegance and a jazz tone that delighted the ear without being commercial. On ballads, you could hear the blues in almost everything he played. On up-tempo numbers, he was light and juicy, tapping along with a ringing empathy, sailing the melody rather than commanding it.
A leadership album rich with Farmer's grace is Perception. Recorded in October 1961 for Argo, the album featured Farmer (flhrn) backed by Harold Mabern (p), Tommy Williams (b) and Roy McCurdy (d). The songs are Farmer's Punsu, The Day After, Lullaby of the Leaves, Farmer's Kayin', Tonk, The Blue Room, Change Partners and Nobody's Heart.
The album has two things going for it. For one, Farmer's fluegelhorn functions as a dancing vocalist, with a crooning form on many songs. For another, Mabern's playing is lush and exquisite, providing Farmer with plenty of rhythm and broadly textured chords. And on songs like Change Partners, we get to hear Roy McCurdy, who played with Gap and Chuck Mangione's Jazz Brothers in the early '60s and was the anchor in the Cannonball Adderley Quintet mid-decade.
Fledgling flugelhornists might want to put on Nobody's Heart and transcribe Farmer's solo. It's an exhibition of regal playing and gentle jazz.
Art Farmer died in 1999.
JazzWax clips: Here's Punsu...
And here's Nobody's Heart...
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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