Historical Essays
Your Subtitle text

The Art Farmer Quartet featuring Jim Hall
by Thomas Cunniffe
Part 2

Go back to PART 1

Atlantic next recorded the quartet during a December engagement at the Half Note. Over three nights, 22 separate performances were recorded and assigned master numbers. Unfortunately, only the five songs selected for the original LP are available to us now, as the unissued tapes of the other 17 pieces were destroyed in a warehouse fire in 1978. The opening cut of the album is another version of “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and it makes for a fascinating comparison with the New School recording. At the Half Note, Hall starts in F major, hints at the melody in the opening chorus, and then Farmer improvises for two choruses followed by a formal theme statement in D-flat! Farmer resumes his solo in the new key. Hall’s accompaniment decreases in the middle of the solo, but instead of the unaccompanied flugel solo, the rhythm section builds again, leading to Hall’s solo, which opens with the guitarist playing against a broken time feel in the bass and drums. Close to the end of this chorus, Swallow intimates a two-beat country feel, and when the rhythm section kicks in again, Hall responds with a rustic, country-style lick that dominates the structure of his extended solo. Time and again, he leaves his progressive ideas to return to these old-fashioned ideas, emulating a bottle-necked blues guitar here and quoting the Charlie Christian classic “Seven Come Eleven” there (sometimes transposed a half-step below the rhythm section!) And in a way of showing that everything old is new again, there are places where the rhythm sounds like the Ornette Coleman Quartet.

Farmer opens Miles Davis’ scalar “Swing Spring” in duet with Perkins, with Hall and Swallow joining in on the next eight. The tempo is quite fast, and Farmer’s solo is boppish, rather than modal. Hall is more adventurous, starting his solo with drums alone, and creating fascinating abstract lines. Perkins solos against occasional backgrounds from Hall, and in the first part of his solo, he accents the snare and toms with one hand while keeping the time on his ride cymbal. Eventually, he stops the cymbal pattern and soon comes to a complete stop before Farmer returns to reprise the melody. Farmer evokes a wonderful, late-night atmosphere on his ballad feature “What’s New?” His beautifully sculpted improvised lines are matched by Hall’s sensitive accompaniment which moves freely between linear counterpoint and rich harmony.

“I Want To Be Happy” may be the most exciting recording the quartet ever made. Taken a furious tempo (which gets faster as it goes), the improvised ideas fly back and forth with abandon, and the constant musical surprises keep the listeners riveted. The opening and closing choruses bring back Farmer’s “wrong-note” concept from “Interaction”, and the solos by Farmer and Hall open with a variant on the broken time idea from “Savoy”. Here, the broken time extends for two choruses, and each member of the rhythm section moves into straight time at a different place. And how Farmer relishes this challenge, ducking and darting between interjections by his bandmates! Once everyone is back in straight time, Farmer cooks along for a few choruses, building in volume and intensity. Hall’s solo has several instances where he floats long asymmetrical lines against the frantic tempo. The final chorus of Hall’s solo may have been intended as a drum solo, but with Hall and Swallow maintaining the tempo and accompaniment, it sounds more like a three-way dialogue than an accompanied drum solo. When Farmer returns, the tempo is suspended as he loosely quotes the “Grand Canyon Suite” (which he had referenced near the end of his earlier solo). As the tempo returns, the speed increases as Hall and Farmer improvise together with a blazing display of competitive musical fireworks. Farmer jumps back to the melody without losing any of the fire and the performance ends with an ecstatic coda. The album’s final performance is Hall’s trio version of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”. The loping medium tempo makes for a nice groove, and the modulations from F to D-flat and back again add interest, but Hall’s solo is rather ordinary and there is little interplay from Swallow and Perkins.

The conservative nature of Hall’s “Sentimental” feature seems to have carried to the entire band on their next recording, an appearance on Ralph J. Gleason’s San Francisco-based TV series, “Jazz Casual”. Gleason’s show, which played nationally on NET, captured a very progressive set by the John Coltrane Quartet late in 1963, and would do so again with Art Pepper in May 1964, but the Farmer quartet played it safe during its January 1964 appearance. The best moments come in a performance of “My Kinda Love” which includes a fiery Farmer solo, and an a cappella duo chorus by the co-leaders. As noted above, the video also allows us to see Perkins’ unusual cymbal technique on “My Little Suede Shoes” (that performance also has a brief Farmer/Hall duet over a single chord). Other than that, there’s little of interest: “Sometime Ago” is predictably lovely, but the TV version is too slow and lacks the depth of the LP version; and “Change Partners”, never officially recorded by the quartet, is little more than a string of solos.  

In the winter of 1964, Perkins left the quartet, and Swallow recommended his friend, Pete LaRoca as a replacement. Although LaRoca’s first recording with the quartet was on an inconsequential date featuring the singer Anamari, it was on the quartet’s next full album “To Sweden With Love” that the impact of LaRoca’s presence became clear. The album was recorded in Stockholm in April 1964, and the repertoire consisted of native folksongs presented to the group by Swedish jazz vocalist Monica Zetterlund. All of the arrangements were by Hall (not Farmer, as listed on the album sleeve), and while the songs are not particularly distinctive, the performances are excellent. In fact, it’s fascinating to focus on LaRoca throughout the album and hear how his work energizes the rest of the group. Farmer seems particularly inspired, performing longer solos with a greater emotional range. And while the verb wailing is usually not associated with Farmer, he does just that on “De Salde Sina Hemman” (“They Sold Their Homeland”). Hall shows his rhythmic side on “Va Da Du” (“Was That You?”) with a powerful sequence of chordal riffing, and while the dynamic balance between bass and drums has changed with LaRoca’s appearance, the compatibility of Swallow and LaRoca comes through in several rhythm sequences where Hall lays out. And lest it be said that LaRoca was merely a powerhouse, his dynamic range, especially on “De Salde Sina Hemman” is particularly wide, ranging from the full-out playing behind Farmer to ultra-quiet passages in support of Hall and Swallow. Also, his brushwork is particularly tasty on “Kristallen Den Fina” (“The Fine Crystal”), which is essentially a duet between Farmer and Hall. Most importantly, the band was able to retain its unique identity, as evidenced by their performances of “Den Mostravige Brudgummen” (“The Reluctant Groom”) and “Midsommer Song”.

The final recording of the quartet was another television appearance, this time for the BBC program, “Jazz 625”. Two separate shows were recorded, but they have been issued as one long concert on the Jazz Icons DVD, “Art Farmer: Live in ‘64”. A bootleg CD of this performance listed June 27 as the date, but Jazz Icons’ listing of June 6 seems to make more sense in light of known recording activities by Hall and Swallow. The bassist recalled that the BBC taping occurred during daytime hours in the middle of their engagement at Ronnie Scotts. He and LaRoca stayed up after the job, and each bought new shoes for the occasion. Despite the fact that the quartet had just recorded in Stockholm six weeks earlier, the London engagement was not part of the same European tour. The group returned to the US shortly after the Swedish recording and then traveled back to London a few weeks later. Trans-Atlantic travel was certainly much more challenging in the mid-sixties than it is now (despite the difference in airport security), and this grueling schedule may have led to Hall’s abrupt departure from the group.

The program opens with “Sometime Ago”, presented in a perfect tempo, settled between the two earlier versions. All of the solos are lyric and melodic, but Farmer’s is a real beauty, delving deeper into the harmonies than on any of his earlier recordings, and displaying superb note choices throughout. After such a gentle opening, the flying tempo of Kurt Weill’s “Bilbao Song” may something of a surprise. One of several pieces on this program that had been recorded but lost from the Half Note sessions, this unusual 28-bar song provides a brilliant showcase for the quartet. Farmer jumps into the changes with spirited boppish lines, taking advantage of the tension inherent in the shortened form. Hall breaks up the melody into pieces during his solo, and LaRoca turns up the heat during his exchanges with Farmer. “Darn That Dream” was a favorite ballad vehicle for Farmer, and this version uses a similar framework to his 1958 recording on the album “Modern Art”, but this rendition is much more harmonically adventurous and more melodically assured than the earlier version. Sonny Rollins’ “Valse Hot” was another unissued recording from the Half Note sessions. Farmer’s long, exploratory solo features several short, angular phrases that float over the brisk tempo. Hall’s solo is also motivic in nature, but the real treat is Swallow’s accompaniment that alternates between a 2-against-3 feel and a straight waltz-time walking pattern.

Cole Porter’s “So In Love” was never recorded by the quartet, but as Don Sickler points out in the DVD liner notes, it was obviously an arrangement that they had played before. Taken at a medium-fast tempo, both Farmer and Hall negotiate the tricky harmonic pattern with ease; however, the idea of Farmer trading complete choruses with LaRoca does not work—especially when they do it for three cycles on a song with an abnormally long form. Nonetheless, the soloing of the two men are quite impressive during this section. Hall is again featured on “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”, and this version, slower than the one recorded at the Half Note, features a better-focused guitar solo and much more interplay from bass and drums. “Petite Belle” points to the future of the quartet, as it appeared on “Sing Me Softly of the Blues”, the album Farmer made in 1965 with pianist Steve Kuhn replacing Hall. This song was originally from the West Indies, but adapted and set to a bossa nova beat by Swallow. Although there are several short phrases in Farmer’s solo, the overall impression is that of a long, unending flow of melody. Hall’s solo may be his best of the entire program; he had played several sambas with Paul Desmond and he knew how to find the emotional depth in this style through effective use of lyric melody and subtle chording. “Bags’ Groove” was one of the quartet’s favorite closing numbers (the shorter of the original “Jazz 625” shows used a version of Farmer’s old theme “Blue Concept” in this spot—it is not included on the DVD). There was a brief version of this Milt Jackson standard at the end of the “Jazz Casual” show and a lost version from the Half Note set. This version runs nearly 10 minutes, and it allows the quartet to stretch out. Both Hall and Farmer use unusual note choices to bring tension to the blues form, and Hall’s altered quote of “Why Don’t You Do Right” is quite interesting (as a blues itself, Hall could have quoted the song straight, but the way he inserts it makes it more than just a casual reference).

The quartet moved from London to Berlin for its next gig, and Hall left the band in the middle of that engagement. No reason was cited, but Hall certainly had plenty of work in New York and his subsequent activity over the next years (free-lance recording, marriage and a long-running position in the house band for the Merv Griffin TV show) seems to indicate his desire to settle in the city for an extended period. Farmer brought in pianist Bengt Hallberg to complete the Berlin job, and for the next year, the quartet would feature a piano instead of guitar. Steve Kuhn eventually got the position, and the trio of Kuhn, Swallow and LaRoca worked as a unit on LaRoca’s Blue Note album “Basra” (with Joe Henderson as the sole horn player), and as a trio under Kuhn’s name on the Contact LP, “Three Waves”. Farmer and Kuhn both moved to Europe later in the 60s (ironically, Kuhn had a long-standing romantic relationship with Monica Zetterlund), and Swallow began his long association with Carla Bley (changing from acoustic to electric bass in the process). LaRoca became a lawyer, but still plays and records on occasion. Despite the abrupt end of their quartet, Farmer and Hall recorded again on Hall’s  “Super Jazz Trio” album with Tommy Flanagan, on Hall's live “Panorama” and most notably, on their co-led CTI album, “Big Blues”. However, their most memorable partnership remains this short-lived, but very creative 1960s quartet which left us a handful of recordings filled with memorable music.

All of the quartet's audio recordings can be found on Collectables CDs 6235 (Interaction/Sing Me Softly of the Blues) and 7654 (To Sweden With Love/Live at the Half Note). The "Jazz Casual" broadcast is available on an Idem import DVD (the 2-sided disc has PAL format on one side and NTSC on the other, so the disc will play worldwide) and the "Jazz 625" concert is available on the Jazz Icons DVD "Art Farmer: Live in '64"

Special thanks to Steve Swallow for his memories and cooperation.