The Art Farmer / Benny Golson Jazztet
Nearly three decades after its genesis, the Jazztet reemerged triumphant over the economic and geographic forces that had undercut the viability of the ongoing band in modern jazz. The chemistry of a steadily working group is often the one galvanizing element that raises a jazz performance out of the ordinary. Art Farmer and Benny Golson knew the value of that chemistry when they first conceived their partnership in 1959.
Born August 21, 1928, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Art Farmer grew up in Phoenix, in a musical family that included his twin brother Addison. At 16, Art and Addison ventured to Los Angeles, drawn to the magnetic force of jazz on Central Avenue. After meeting Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Criss, Hampton Hawes, and others, Art played trumpet in the bands of Horace Henderson, Floyd Ray, Jimmy Mundy, and Johnny Otis. He cut his first sides, including his respected composition "Farmer’s Market,” with tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray’s Quintet.
During the 1950s, after settling in New York, Farmer played alongside such legendary jazzmen as Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, and Oscar Pettiford. He formed a quintet with Gigi Gryce, played in the Horace Silver Quintet and Gerry Mulligan Quartet, and landed a role in the Susan Hayward film I Want to Live, all before forming the Jazztet. After the Jazztet disbanded in 1962, Farmer concentrated on flugelhorn, formed quartets with Jim Hall and Steve Kuhn, and later, when "the bottom was falling out of jazz in New York,” moved to Vienna, Austria at the invitation of a radio jazz orchestra. Farmer appeared on over 100 albums, including his 1987 tribute to Billy Strayhorn, Something to Live For on Contemporary.
Benny Golson was born on January 25, 1929 in Philadelphia, where he took up the piano at age nine, and saxophone at 14. After attending Howard University, he immersed himself in the bebop cauldron and played with such diverse musicians as Tiny Grimes, Tadd Dameron, Earl Bostic, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He also worked with Charles Mingus, John Lewis, Gunther Schuller, Lee Morgan, and Freddie Hubbard. In 1957 Golson won the Down Beat Jazz Poll as arranger and New Star Tenor Saxophonist, repeating the latter in 1958.
As a composer, Golson has contributed such pieces as "Killer Joe,” "Whisper Not,” "I Remember Clifford,” and "Stablemates” to the standard jazz repertoire. As an arranger, Golson has always been in great demand, writing for such stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme, Oscar Peterson, Percy Faith, Peggy Lee, and Diana Ross. In 1967, Golson moved from New York to Hollywood where he spent eight years writing scores for such tele¬vision programs as "M*A*S*H,” "Room 222,” "Mission Impossible,” and "Mannix.” When he resumed playing in the 70s, Golson quickly regained his saxophone prowess and found a particularly empathetic partner in Farmer. "Writing ballads is one of my favorite pastimes,” he told jazz writer Gene Lees, "and somehow I intuitively write them with Art in mind. There is no greater fulfillment or reward than hearing him play them.”
Farmer and Golson, who first met in the Lionel Hampton band in 1953, were both winners in the 1958 Down Beat Poll and soon thereafter developed the idea to work together. "Benny said that rather than just have another quintet,” Farmer told Lees, "it would be nice to have another horn. Benny had worked on an extended gig with Curtis Fuller for eight months one time. So that’s how it started. The name for the group came from Curtis, who really has a talent with words. He came up with the idea of calling it the Jazztet.”
Curtis Fuller, born December 15, 1934 in Detroit, was emerging from the shadow of the great J.J. Johnson as a modern jazz trombonist of the first order. He had left college to join the Miles Davis Sextet in New York City, later working with Yusef Lateef, Lester Young, the James Moody Octet, and the orchestras of Dizzy Gillespie, Machito, and Gil Evans. His first recording was "Blue Train” with John Coltrane in 1958. During the 1960s, Fuller played in the Quincy Jones Orchestra, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the Jimmy Heath Quintet, the Joe Henderson Sextet, and alongside such artists as Freddie Hubbard, Oliver Nelson, and Phil Woods. In the 70s, in addition to acting as a jazz instructor, Fuller joined the Count Basie Orchestra, formed his own group, and later played with Lionel Hampton. For much of the 1980s, the trombonist has recorded and toured with the Timeless All-Stars, a heralded hard-bop sextet with Cedar Walton, Buster Williams, Billy Higgins, Bobby Hutcherson, and Harold Land.
The original Jazztet featured Farmer on trumpet, Golson on tenor, Fuller on trombone, McCoy Tyner on piano, Addison Farmer on bass, and Dave Bailey on drums. The band made an instant mark with its recording of Golson’s "Killer Joe.” But although it recorded six albums, the band lasted only three years. Perhaps the New York jazz scene was preoccupied with the new thing of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, who arrived in New York during that same period. Tyner was the first member to leave the band, joining the historic Coltrane quartet. Fuller was next and soon the group disbanded.
The Jazztet’s re-formation in 1982 was spurred by the requests of jazz promoters in Europe and Japan, and the band played regularly afterward, returning to recording with Back to the City in 1986.