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Farlow

Tal
A
Jazz
B Y P E T E WA G U L A
Legends
Restless
Retirement
ome say Tal Farlow
r et i r ed i n 1958
when he moved
from New York City to a quiet
resort town on the Jersey coast.
Others say hes never really re-
tired, but simply cut back on his
playing to enjoy other things in
life. And then there are those Eu-
ropean jazz aficionados who
would laugh at any mention of
the r word, because they catch
S
Tals gigs all the time.
But the truth is that unless you live in Eu-
rope, New York, or New Jersey, the only way
youre likely to hear this jazz guitar legend is on
a recording. Farlow has issued at least 35 gems,
but seeing those big hands move through beau-
tiful chord voicings and effortlessly blaze
through single-note runs is a special treat. If you
love jazz guitar, a New Jersey pilgrimage may
be in order.
Farlow, 74, grew up in Greensboro, North
Carolina, where he was trained as a sign painter.
Reared in a musical family (his father played vi-
olin, mandolin, clarinet, and guitar, his mother
and sister piano), Tal viewed the guitar as strictly
a hobby until he heard Charlie Christian playing
with the Benny Goodman Sextet on the radio
in 1939. Nowhere else in the popular music of
the day was the guitar so prominent, so out
front. Farlow bought the Goodman records and
began the serious task of learning Christians so-
los note for note. Later Tal discovered jazz pianist
Art Tatum and began digesting his music. The
two trailblazers became Tals biggest influences,
and the die was cast.
Playing with an unknown band in Richmond,
Virginia, a few years later, Farlow was hired on
the spot by pianist/singer Dardanelle. After work-
ing in various East Coast cities, Tal found himself
in New York for a six-month Copacabana gig in
1944. The bop scene, which had started with jam
sessions featuring Charlie Christian, Thelonious
Monk, and Dizzy Gillespie at Mintons on 118th
Street, was now flourishing on 52nd Street. Tal
wasted no time becoming part of it. By 1946 he
was working with Marjorie Hyams, who was al-
ternating with Charlie Parker at the Three
Deuces. On off nights Tal would go hear the new
music being played by Bird, Dizzy, Tatum, and
Bud Powell, soaking it up and incorporating it
into his own playing.
Painting signs for department stores during
the day and playing at night with jazz groups
such as clarinetist Buddy de Francos, Farlow fi-
nally hit his stride when he joined Red Norvos
trio in 1949. Norvo, a renowned vibraphonist
with a reputation for playing very fast, turned
up the heat on Tals playing. Farlow struggled at
first but quickly caught on. The trio toured cross-
country to California, ventured to Hawaii for two
months, and then returned to L.A. There bassist
Red Kelly left the band and was replaced by a San
Francisco postman named Charles Mingus.
During 1950 and 1951, this remarkable
power trio drew the notice of players, critics,
and sophisticated fans, making jazz history and
putting Farlow indelibly on the map. Luckily the
interplay between Norvo, Farlow, and Mingus
is preserved on record. Check out The Red Norvo
Trio [Savoy], particularly the cuts Move and
Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart.
During this period Tal experimented with
a short-scale neck on his Gibsonor, more ac-
curately, a short-scale fingerboard on a standard
neck. This alteration reduced the string tension
and allowed greater left-hand stretches. He used
this guitar throughout his four-year West Coast
stint with Norvo. Tals big-handed reach became
legendary.
In the mid 50s Tal played with Artie Shaws
Gramercy Five and performed and recorded
with his own trio. Several recordings stand out,
notably Farlows Autumn In New York [Colum-
bia] and The Swinging Guitar Of Tal Farlow
[Verve]. Then in 1958, Tal stepped out of the
limelight, moving to a small New Jersey town
to paint signs, teach, and play an occasional lo-
cal gig.
But Farlows so-called retirement has borne
much fruit. Besides all those signs, Tal created
some superb records. His relationship with Gib-
son blossomed into the Tal Farlow model guitar,
an elegant archtop with a 25
1
/2" scale and a dis-
tinctive scroll near the cutaway that was pro-
duced from 1962 through 67. He signed a deal
with Concord Records, cutting a half-dozen al-
bums, and in 1981 filmmaker Loreazo DeStefano
released the documentary Talmadge Farlow,
a documentary on the guitarist. During the 80s
Tal started playing more dates and began tour-
ing abroad.
60 GUI TAR PLAYER MAY 1996
Farlow
Tal
everal facets of Farlows playing elevate
him to a level few guitarists reach. Hell
amaze you with super-fast, clean lines,
stun you with double-stops and harmonics,
floor you with his phrasing. But his trademark
may be his shimmering chord voicings. Many
of Tals ballad recordingsAutumn In New
York, Darn That Dream, and My Romance,
for examplebegin with a one- or two-minute
solo intro, just Tal playing one beautiful chord
after another. If youd like to investigate some
nice Farlow-style chords, these tunes are a good
place to start.
The following musical examples are based
on some of Tals intro and ending ideas. Farlow
frequently uses his left-hand thumb to cover
bass notes on the sixth and fifth strings, so ex-
periment with different fingerings until you feel
comfortable. Dont be afraid to use your thumb
wherever possible.
One of the hallmarks of good chord-melody
playing is sustaining interesting and convincing
movement in all voices, a skill at which Farlow
excels. One of Tals favorite techniques is to sus-
tain or repeat a melodic note over an ever-shift-
ing chord sequence, as depicted in Ex. 1. Here
the note Grepeats while the voicings shift and
the bass ascends chromatically.
Ex. 2 begins in similar fashion but veers into
a more melodic approach before cadencing in
C. Note how the bass line in Ex. 3 shifts between
stepwise movement and leaps of a fourthtwo
common devices that Farlow mixes unpre-
dictably. Use your thumb to nail that bass note
in the G13 chord. Ex. 4 shows one cool way to
follow a chromatically descending bass line by
cycling through lush 6/9 and 7#5#9 chords.
When you feel comfortable with Examples 2, 3,
and 4, try linking them together, omitting the
final measures of Examples 2 and 3. Turn up the
tempo and swing.
The influence of jazz pianists surfaces in
much of Farlows chord-melody playing. An ob-
vious example is the way Tal supports and moves
voicingsespecially high on the neckby play-
ing bass notes independently with his right-hand
index finger, allowing him to extend chords far
beyond a guitarists normal range. He plays the
voicing and, while sustaining the notes, palms
his pick and reaches behind the chord to tap the
bass note with the side of his index finger. Try
Ex. 5 and Ex. 6 in this fashion. Both make good
endings for Ex. 1.
Ex. 7 is a special treat. Its part of the chord
sequence to Tals famed solo introduction to the
Rodgers & Hart standard My Romance. Once
more the piano player in Tal emerges. His right-

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Ex. 1
Ex. 2
Ex. 3
S
FARLOWS SHI MMERI NG CHORD VOI CI NGS
hand index finger holds down a C on the first
string from measure 2 through the end, while
his right-hand thumb strums through the mov-
ing chords and the repeating C. Did you notice
the modulation from C to Db? Its so smooth!
Youll find the tune on both The Return Of Tal
Farlow[Prestige] and Guitar Player Presents Leg-
ends Of Guitar: Jazz, Vol. 1 [Rhino]. Check it out
along with any other Farlow recordings you can
get your hands on. For an inside look at Tals
playing, see Steve Rochinskis book The Jazz Style
Of Tal Farlow[Hal Leonard]. g
Farlow
Tal

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Ex. 7
Ex. 5 Ex. 6

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Ex. 4