“I first heard Art Farmer play live at the Old Eden Saloon in Berlin in 1965. At that time, the band did not use any amplifiers and just relied on acoustic sound. Art broke into amazing musical slurs on his flugelhorn. His extensive repertoire included the best standards from Irving Berlin to Burt Bacharach. Later I found out that Art first studied a standard’s original melody and lyrics. He internalized both melody and lyrics to such an extent that he could take the harmonic structure of a piece to a new musical realm, i.e. an intricate web of upbeats, ornaments, variations, rhythmic shifts, climaxes, and conclusions. Never wanting to overpower his audience with his interpretations, Art always sought the best expression possible. From the beginning, his way of making music moved me. I felt happy, fulfilled and inspired.”
“After his stint at the Old Eden Saloon had come to an end, Art was engaged at the Dugs Night Club. I had already had a one-year run in the club’s house band with drummer Joe Nay, one of Kenny Clarke’s students, and bassist Dieter Gutzkow. At our first afternoon rehearsal Art made us play new compositions by Carla Bley, which had just been recorded in New York with Steven Kuhn, Pete LaRoca, and Steve Swallow.
“Even though Art had composed many pieces at that time – among them the twelve-bar blues ‘Farmer’s Market,’ which was made world-famous by Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross – he continued to take lessons with George Russell. He constantly searched for new themes that would help him develop his musical capabilities, for example George Russell’s ‘Nita’ featured on the album Portrait of Art Farmer.
“During rehearsals, Art Farmer only pointed out the most important things. He himself was extremely focused and very well prepared, but gave us the utmost freedom to develop our musical ideas. He exuded an indescribable calmness. By engaging the band members in interplays and through signals and skewed intervals, he created the necessary tension in the pieces. In spite of his extraordinary musical vocabulary, he never ceased to surprise us with new melodic inventions.”
“’ You have to keep things alive and interesting,’ was his motto. He practiced several hours every day to achieve this goal. I will never forget how easily and fluently he improvised on themes at a breakneck speed. When I participated in the Competition for Modern Jazz in Vienna in 1966, which had been initiated by Friedrich Gulda, I met Art Farmer again. He was one of the jurors at the contest. I won the first prize for jazz piano. In 1968 Erich Kleinschuster founded his new sextet. Thanks to Mr. Kleinschuster’s work at the ORF Broadcasting Station and the Conservatory of Music in Vienna, jazz saw a revival in Vienna. Art Farmer and Duke Ellington’s former bass-player Jimmy Woode settled in Vienna and I was able to return to my hometown as well.
“Ever since that time, Art Farmer showed interest in my own compositions. He recorded the tunes ‘Confab’ and ‘Whole Tone Stomp’ for his album From Vienna with Art.
“I think that one of Art’s dreams came true at that time: he recorded an album of ballads for Mainstream Records at the ORF Studio with musical director Johannes Fehring. All the musicians involved were quite startled when Art slowed the original tempo of most tracks by more than half. I remember Art interrupting us several times by saying in unmistakable earnest, ‘Slower! Much slower!’ Thanks to the wonderful arrangements, the sensitive conductor Johannes Fehring and Art’s wise intentions, we completed a record that is marked by an enchantingly calm mood. Its title track ‘Gentle Eyes’ is one of my own compositions. While recording the string part of the track ‘God Bless the Child,’ Art suddenly whispered to me, ‘Play something.” As if guided by a magic power, I improvised some melodic bows over the string part. At that time, we also went on tour with Art and his trio. A young ambitious saxophonist named Harry Sokal showed up in our circle at that time. One day I introduced him to Art. This is how the Art Farmer Quintet was founded. Paulo Cardoso played the bass and Joris Dudli percussion. We then landed an exclusive contract with the Viennese jazz club Jazzland, which enabled us to perform there for a week at least twice a year. This contract lasted until last year.
“Between 1976 and 1986 I was a frequent guest in Pavel Polansky’s radio program ‘Musik zum Traumen.’ Art and I recorded several duos for this show. This is how our duo album Azure came into being. It was recorded at the Konzerthaus Studio in Vienna. Art chose all the tracks. He and his wife Mechthilde invited me to stay with them in their house during rehearsal and recording time. That is why we were able to thoroughly prepare ourselves. As Art was given to self-criticism and a drive for perfection, we went back to the studio to record some tracks anew. Art worked intensively with the musical material and provided ornaments for my compositions ‘Night Time,’ ‘Sound with an Empty Room,’ and ‘Song of Praise.’ I was also able to play a piano solo for variations on the Austrian folk song ‘Blaue Fensterin,’ which I renamed ‘Blue Windows.’ It would take a long time to list all our activities. With the quartet, we toured Brazil for a week and with the quintet we performed at the New York jazz club Sweet Basil’s. We received rave reviews. All the band members deeply regret that the Art Farmer Quintet no longer exists. Art Farmer’s sound, our rich memories and his wonderful personality will outlive his passing.
Words by Fritz Pauer (1943- 2012) in an article he co-wrote with Wolfgang Weitlaner, a journalist, when both were living in Vienna, Austria. Fritz Pauer passed away July 1, 2012.
Published in Austria Kultur, Vol 10 No 1, Jan /Feb 2000. Published by the Austrian Cultural Institute, 950 Third Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, New York 10022.