The son of a steelworker, Art Farmer worked as a musician from the mid-1940s onwards. Based in Los Angeles, he played in the bands of Benny Carter and Jay McShann among others.
He joined Lionel Hampton's orchestra around 1953, sharing the trumpet chairs within the organization with Clifford Brown and Quincy Jones. Having relocated to New York, he subsequently worked with Gigi Gryce, Horace Silver and Gerry Mulligan among others. From the middle of the 1950s, Farmer featured in recordings by leading arrangers of the day, including George Russell, Jones and Oliver Nelson. Significantly, he formed "The Jazztet" with the composer and tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, both men having independently come to the conclusion that the other should be a member of their group. "The Jazztet" lasted until 1962, and assisting in the early careers of pianist McCoy Tyner and trombonist Grachan Moncur III, with the group recording several albums for Argo and Mercury Records. In the early 1960s Farmer established a trio with guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Steve Swallow. Later, with drummer Pete La Roca and pianist Steve Kuhn, Farmer and Swallow recorded the album Sing Me Softly of the Blues (1965) for the Atlantic label.
Farmer then moved to Europe, ultimately settling in Vienna, where he performed with The Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band. Farmer also recorded extensively as a leader throughout his later career. With Golson he revived 'The Jazztet' in the 1980s for a number of engagements, with the original trombonist Curtis Fuller returning to the group.
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“A great biography should, like the close of a great drama, leave behind it a feeling of serenity. We collect into a small bunch the flowers, the few flowers, which brought sweetness into a life, and present it as an offering to an accomplished destiny. It is the dying refrain of a completed song, the final verse of a finished poem.”
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