Personalities | Tal Farlow | Fast & Fierce Soloist | Guitar Heroes
Jazz icon Tal Farlow (1921–98) wowed fans and other guitarists with his blazing speed and physical ability, facilitated by his large hands, to create unique, extended voicings. Farlow was equally well known for his semi-reclusiveness.
Trained as a sign painter, he frequently dropped out of the music scene for long periods, living a quiet life on the New Jersey shore until a rare appearance for a recording session or performance.
Farlow was born in 1921 in Greensboro, North Carolina. When he was eight years old his father gave him a mandolin, the strings of which were tuned like the upper strings of a guitar. When he later was given a six-string guitar he retained his four-string fingerings, using his thumb on the low strings. Farlow heard Charlie Christian around 1941 and learned many of Christian’s solos note for note. Farlow’s first serious work was in 1944. He worked with East-Coast bands, and in late 1949 was recruited by Red Norvo for a trio that featured Charles Mingus on bass. Farlow developed his speed in an effort to keep up with Norvo’s blistering tempos.
In 1953 Farlow returned to the East Coast, where he recorded as a sideman and played in Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five. He recorded as a leader for Blue Note. In early 1956 Farlow formed a trio with pianist Eddie Costa and bassist Vinnie Burke. Over the next three years this trio made a number of successful records. The Complete Verve Tal Farlow Sessions (2004) include these recordings.
In 1958 Farlow married and moved to the quiet New Jersey coastal town of Sea Bright, where he worked as a sign painter and teacher. He re-emerged when he recorded The Return Of Tal Farlow (1969), after which he returned to his life at the shore.
In the Eighties Tal became much more visible. He made half a dozen recordings for the Concord label and performed in Europe and Japan. He toured with Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd as Great Guitars. Farlow worked steadily until the mid-Nineties. In 1997 he was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. He died in 1998.
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