Try to think of something that you really want to hear
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.
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.
Whatever you're doing right now you think this is it. Ten years from now, or maybe less than that, people may not want to hear it and maybe you won't even want to hear it yourself. You have to keep your mind and your ears open to movement, to development in the music. You have to value things and think: Do I like this as much as that? What can I do to make it more enjoyable to me?
When I heard Dizzy Gillespie I loved the way he played, but it was impossible for me to play what he played. So I had to find something that I could play. I couldn't play that high and I couldn't play that fast. So I had to play lower and play slower.
It made me think, if I can't play 10 notes and I can only play one, then that one has to really have some meaning to it. And then later on I decided that the 10 notes are not that important unless they have meaning to them anyway.
But sometimes I'm aware of getting caught in a situation where I feel, gee, I better play something, I better fill up some space. But that's not good thinking -- it's a pitfall. It's just some notes for the sake of notes. They don't mean that much. You have to discipline your thinking in order to play music that means something. You should try to think of something that you really want to hear.
But sometimes you get an idea -- an idea comes to your mind and you go for it. And it just doesn't come out. That used to happen to me a lot. In general, that used to be the whole thing. I mean, 90 percent of the ideas that I had I couldn't play. I wound up with around 10 percent realized.
So eventually you stop thinking so much about those things that seem out of reach and start thinking more about what you can do. At that same time you start thinking about how to do it better. If you can play 10 notes well, you're in much better shape than if you half-way play a thousand notes.
But you should always try to improve your ability, to master your trumpet or whatever it is. You should never accept ``I will never be able to do this.'' If there's something that you really want to do, then just keep on working at it.
I think that if you're able to learn through institutions also, then it takes a shorter time than it used to when I was starting. But you still have to deal with whatever handicaps you may have, although there's no reason to complain about that.
What others say that I did was, in a certain sense, to accept my limitations and base what I played on what I could do. That's true. But at the same time I tried to widen my scope, so I could play more. I worked at it from two angles at the same time. And I still do.
I used to be playing a solo someplace and all of a sudden an idea would come to me to play a line that would end with a high E. And as soon as that idea came to me, the idea would come, ``Now, you know you can't do that.'' So I would think of something else to do. But at home I would try to get that high E. I'd try to get it together. So that when I went out to play I would be able to do it at least sometime. So now I can do it most of the time. But if I didn't try, if I didn't work at it, I never would be able to do it.