American trumpeter Art Farmer's cool notes in Vienna
New York — American jazz musicians have long been attracted to Europe as a place where their music is welcomed and appreciated - perhaps even more than it is here in its birthplace. Over the years quite a number of these musicians have gone to Europe to play, then made the decision not to return to the United States - they've settled down and made Europe their home.
Trumpeter-flugelhornist Art Farmer, whose lyrical style won acclaim during the ''cool jazz'' era of the the '50s, has been living and playing in Vienna since 1968. Iowa-born, Arizona-raised, Farmer concentrated his musical activity in Los Angeles and New York while he was in the US, but early in his career he began traveling abroad.
''I first went to Europe in 1953 with Lionel Hampton on a three-month tour,'' remarked the soft-spoken Farmer during an interview here at a recent engagement at the Blue Note. ''I went again with Gerry Mulligan's quartet in 1958 on a Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, and then in 1964 with my own quartet, with Jim Hall on guitar.''
Knowing Paris or Copenhagen to be more popular places for American jazz expatriates, people often ask him, ''Why Vienna?'' Farmer explains:
''In 1966 I was invited to go to Vienna to participate in an international jazz competition as a judge. During that time I met some of the local musicians, who told me about a radio jazz band that was being organized, and asked me if I would be interested in playing in it. At that time there was a lot of social unrest here in the United States and there wasn't much happening in New York with the music, so I decided, 'Why not?' ''
Farmer soon discovered that he would only have to work 10 days out of each month, leaving the rest of his time free to play with other jazz greats who had ''escaped'' the unreceptive climate for jazz in the America of the '60s - people like saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, and Don Byas, as well as violinist Stuff Smith and drummer Kenny Clarke.
''There were more of them over there than over here at that time!'' laughs Farmer. So he settled in, learned the language - ''through contact; I never studied'' - and has been there ever since.
But Art Farmer is still very much a part of the American music scene. He has been coming back to the US about once a year and sometimes more often to play and to record. He recently completed an album for Concord, ''The Art Farmer Quintet - A Work of Art,'' (CJ-179), and he has another in the works. He will play in Toronto in November, and plans a nationwide tour in December with a quartet.
Farmer's back-and-forth travels have given him some insights into how jazz is faring, both here and abroad.
''During the time I've been living there, I've seen a great deal of progress in the European jazz players. There always used to be a huge problem with the rhythm sections, especially drummers, and with the overall feel for the music. But that really has improved a lot.''
The reason for this improvement? ''Time, the access to the music through radio and records, and people going on tour have brought about this change,'' Farmer says. ''Quite a few Americans have gone over there and lived at one time or another. People have had exposure to American players, and the level of playing has gone up.''
Farmer says he feels jazz has become a universal art form, and where a musician lives is not as important as it used to be. More important are ''. . . how much you want to play and how interested you are. There used to be a time when the American jazz musician was worshipped, regardless of his own capability. That's changed now, which is a very good thing.''
How about the European audiences?
''In general, they're better than the American audiences, although the American jazz audience has improved. But you run into situations in the United States that you don't run into in Europe. Here people come to hear anything that's popular. If they walk down the street and see the name Art Farmer, they say, 'Oh yeah, I've heard that name somewhere before - let's go in there.' And then they come in and just sit and talk. I was born in the United States and I've been playing music for my living for 35 years at least, and it's always been like that. Of course I'm glad they come in, because otherwise we wouldn't get paid, but still . . .!''
Farmer says Europeans seek out jazz for love of the music, rather than to be ''trendy'' or part of a ''hip scene.''
''In Europe and other places in the world where I've played, when people come into a place where music is being played, the only reason they come in is because they want to hear the music. If they don't want to hear it, they don't come in.''
Yet, in spite of his complaints about the American jazz audience, Farmer admits that he has seen ''. . . a gradual, quiet resurgence in jazz in the States.'' Farmer finds that in Europe, jazz isn't necessarily centered around the larger cities.
''In a small country like Austria, I can go and play in little towns where the whole population might be only 20,000 people. I'll play in a club or at a concert, often sponsored by membership clubs or the cultural office of the city. The government supports the arts more there than here. It's amazing, because jazz isn't even their art, so to speak.''
But here in the US, before he made Austria his home, Art found slim pickings outside of the major cities - and heavy competition within them.
''I had worked at the Village Vanguard, but places like that and the Village Gate had their choice of the major jazz artists - John Coltrane, Miles Davis, the MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet). It was like 'Wait your turn.' And once you leave New York City, jazz is pretty sparse.''
The way Art Farmer describes it, Europe can sometimes be close to heaven for a jazz musician.
''There's a tremendous growth of jazz going on in Europe right now - more than before. A musician like Archie Shepp can go to France and play one-nighters for a month. Even the avant-garde guys are doing OK!''