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Try to think of something that you really want to hear

By Art Farmer / April 1, 1985



We've been hoping that Art Farmer would add some words to the elegant music that has brought acclaim both in the United States and in Europe -- where, like a number of American musicians, he has made a second home. Now, between reunions of his celebrated Jazztet and other appearances, he has given The Home Forum those words, based on what he recently said at a meeting with Harvard students. We wonder if his remarks about the trumpet and fluegelhorn might not speak to people in any pursuit -- as he says, not accepting ``I will never be able to do this.'' IN general, the way people listen to music in Europe and the United States is so different that Europe is much more attractive to someone who's trying to play jazz.

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If I'm playing at a club in the United States, anything can happen. For example, people walk in off the street, they see the name and say: ``Oh, Art Farmer. I heard of him somewhere. Let's go in there and talk.''

In Europe there are a lot of people who are just not interested in jazz at all. They've heard it, they've been exposed to it, and they're just not interested. Everybody can't like everything. But they don't come into the jazz clubs.

The people who do come in, come in because they want to hear what's going on in there that night. Or at least they're curious enough to be quiet and listen and then make up their minds whether they like it or not. But they're never going to come in there and just sit and talk.

There used to be this idea in Europe that if you weren't black, well, then you weren't able to play jazz. And that was a very bad idea, because there were a lot of people that took advantage of this and weren't really playing. And they were jumping up there on the stage, doing nothing, and the audience was listening to them and thinking this is jazz. And it wasn't true. It was just a sham, but this is something that I think everybody's outgrown. Because you have black people and white people that are playing jazz and the blues in Europe now, as best they can, and that's all that anyone can do anywhere, regardless of what your color is.

I think that if you love something enough, and you're willing to put the effort and the energy in it, then you're going to get something out of it, regardless of what your background is. It depends on what you do, not what brought you where you were. It doesn't depend on your mother and your father -- it depends on you. You're the one that has to do it. You can't say, ``Hey, Mama, make me a jazz musician, or make me this or that.'' You have to do it yourself. You have to put your heart and soul into it.

To think in terms of ``making a contribution'' is something that I never have heard anyone that has made one or is capable of making one speak of. The people that play music as a profession, they just play it and they don't think about making a contribution. They think more about trying to play the music, trying to achieve proficiency on their instrument, with their writing, or whatever it is. And if you're able to make a contribution that's really like icing on the cake.

Since I've been trying to play -- for 40 years now -- I've heard a whole lot of things that people did for a short period of time. But whether it lasts or not, that remains to be seen. You really shouldn't get locked into any one style so much that you think music begins and ends right here.