The Art Farmer Discography

For many years I had considered compiling the discography of trumpeter, flugelhornist and flumpeter Art Farmer. One of the most lyrical of jazz soloists, he has been on my radar since I first became interested in jazz in the early 1950s. But his 50-year career and substantial recording output discouraged me from embarking upon such a seemingly overwhelming undertaking.

Earlier this year, I learned that my friend Lynne Mueller, Farmer’s companion and manager in his later years, was assembling a website in his honor and with her support and encouragement I agreed to work on his discography. There was also assistance available provided by my Gigi Gryce co-biographer Michael Fitzgerald who had already compiled a discography of the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet. Since both Mike and I were users of the BRIAN discography software, I was able to import a portion of his database into my own which avoided a considerable amount of data entry.

I am delighted to report that Farmer’s discography is now available and can be seen here. This was a major effort that includes solo information. I encourage all of you to have a look and provide comments and corrections as you see fit.

In Search of Frank Strozier

In many ways, Frank Strozier is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Although highly regarded by his peers, he stopped playing saxophone and flute in the 1980s, made a brief stab at a piano career in 1990 (his first instrument) and has not been heard from since. Rumors abound as to his fate, including allegations that he is deceased. As far as I have been able to ascertain, this is not true – at least, up to the time of this writing, I have found no obituaries. At the same time, however, his current status and whereabouts seem to be unknown to anyone, even his longtime associates.

One perhaps unfortunate but typically American source of controversy is Strozier’s race. Anecdotally, many people have assumed from his appearance on albums that he is white. But according to his Memphis colleagues, he is African-American. Photographer Ernest C. Withers, who documented the Memphis music scene in “The Memphis Blues Again: Six decades of Memphis Music Photographs,” Daniel Wolff, Ed., Viking Studio/Penguin, New York, 2001, displays on p. 55 a photo of a young Strozier, ca. 1952 (age 14 or 15), wearing his high school band uniform and holding his alto sax, with the following commentary:

Strozier graduated from high school in Memphis (where he was born in 1937) then moved to Chicago in 1954. He eventually played be-bop sax with Miles Davis, among many others.

He’s in his high school uniform then, but he’s quite an adult now. Frank Strozier was a great saxophonist, and he rose to national popularity. His father was a pharmacist. He was from the early Rhythm Bombers, a little younger than Phineas Newborn. He played on my ball team when I was on the police force.

Nearly all the subjects in Withers’ photos are African-American, a notable exception being Elvis Presley. The Rhythm Bombers were the band of segregated Manassas High School in Memphis, under the direction of W.T. McDaniel, of which many of the city’s future black musical stars were members. Like Newborn, Strozier was clearly a prodigy, recording with vocalist/drummer Houston Stokes for Sun Records while still in his teens.

Sun Records Box 105 which includes Houston Stokes tracks

Strozier’s last recording as a leader was the 1977 album What’s Goin’ On for the Steeplechase label. After that he performed and/or recorded with trumpeter Danny Moore, drummers Louis Hayes and Jim Schaepperoew, bassists Stafford James and Stephen Roane, guitarist Kazumi Watanabe, vocalist Mari Nakamoto, and made several appearances with the George Coleman octet. The last instance of Strozier performing on saxophone that I have been able to document is a bootleg recording of the Coleman ensemble in Hartford, CT in July 1984. Then in 1990, he made his debut as a pianist leading a trio in a concert at Weill Recital Hall in New York City, but after that, nothing!

It has been reported that Strozier became a math and/or science (not music) teacher in Westchester County, NY. Nick Catalano, in his book “New York Nights: Writing, Producing and Performing in Gotham,” iUniverse, Bloomington, IN, 2009, indicates on p. 122 that the saxophonist obtained a teaching certificate in 1971 and that he began teaching in the Yonkers, NY public schools. This early date is surprising since at the time, Strozier was still very active musically. In fact, in 1971 Strozier was an adjunct faculty member at Paterson State College (now William Paterson University) in Wayne, NJ and director of the College Jazz Ensemble (see photo below). He would be replaced the following year by Thad Jones. Also, in 1971, Strozier won the Talent Deserving Wider Recognition award in DownBeat Magazine’s International Critics Poll.

Strozier rehearsing the Paterson State College band. Photo courtesy William Paterson University Jazz Program (Dr. David Demsey). Photographer unknown.

Catalano further asserts that Strozier’s decision to make piano his primary instrument occurred in 1982, yet his debut on the instrument didn’t occur until 8 years later.

Why did Strozier stop playing? One theory that has circulated involves his frustration with being unable to secure high quality reeds. Certainly reed selection and procurement are major considerations for most saxophonists and other woodwind players as well. But it seems a stretch to believe that this factor alone was responsible for his jettisoning a successful career. It has also been speculated that he just became fed up with the music business and its failure to consistently reward excellence and creativity.

For many years I have attempted to make contact with Strozier with the goal of carrying out an in depth interview that might shed light on the questions that surround him. All my approaches have been ignored as have those of others, even his longtime musical colleagues. He seems to have basically cut himself off from his musical life. So at this point in time, we know little about why one of the most original and technically proficient saxophonists of the post-bop era walked away from what should have been a long and productive career. Fortunately, he left us a substantial body of recordings to study and enjoy.

From time to time I get inquiries about Strozier, once someone wondering where to send royalties. If anyone has confirmed recent information about him, please let me know.

Here is an excerpt of “Mass Ave Swing” (Sonny Stitt) from a live Strozier quartet performance in 1976 (Many thanks to saxophonist Frank Basile for catching my error in originally calling this tune “Rhythm-A-Ning” (Thelonious Monk). The two “I Got Rhythm” contrafacts are similar, but this is definitely the Stitt tune.):

Here are some flyers promoting Strozier appearances between 1970 and 1990:


Note (December 1, 2017): Evidence points to Strozier currently residing in the state of Rhode Island. Efforts to confirm this have so far been unsuccessful, but I thank the people who have contacted me with information about his whereabouts.

Chris Byars’ Tributes to the Greats

Since 2002, it has been a pleasure to collaborate with the New York City-based saxophonist/arranger/composer Chris Byars on a variety of projects involving the legacies of jazz innovators worthy of greater recognition. With the recent (January 2017) release of his Frank Strozier tribute, he has now recorded six such albums, all of which are mandatory listening if you enjoy old wine in new bottles. Listed below, they are all highly recommended!

The Music of Frank Strozier (2017)

The Music of Duke Jordan (2014)

Music Forever (2012) [Freddie Redd]

Lucky Strikes Again (2011) [Lucky Thompson]

Blue Lights: The Music of Gigi Gryce (2009)

Dances with Bulls (2009) [Teddy Charles – Note: This CD gives leadership to Charles, but Chris was responsible for putting the project together including writing the arrangements. Recorded in July 2008, it was Charles’ first studio session since 1967!]

 

Frank Strozier Solos

I have now added solo information to my Frank Strozier discography. This includes many live sessions where he really stretches out. In the process of doing this, I was forced to analyze some of the original compositions recorded in the 1960s and 1970s and discovered that they often have very unusual structures. In certain instances, I have described these briefly in the session notes.

You can also find a table in which I have compiled all of Strozier’s solos by recording date and performance title between 1959 and 1984. This information, which includes solo duration, was extracted from the discography.

If you are not familiar with Strozier’s work, I would highly recommend that you check it out. He was also a gifted composer and saxophonist Chris Byars has recorded several of his pieces for a Steeplechase CD to be issued in 2017.

Album Covers

I have spent a lot of time compiling album covers from releases listed in my discographies and those I recall being my very first LPs acquired when I began collecting jazz recordings as a teenager. At this point, there are 1679 covers available for viewing. Many of these are of great historical significance such as the 1950s 10-inch and 12-inch LPs from labels like Blue Note, EmArcy, Prestige, Bethlehem, Clef, Norgran and Verve as well as issues from the major labels including Columbia, Decca, Mercury, RCA Victor and their subsidiaries. I have also included some foreign issues and CD replicas when a quality scan of the original LP could not be found.

There are some rare examples such as a promo version of Gigi Gryce’s Reminiscin’ LP (Mercury; 1961) where the image of him playing his alto sax has been reversed.

Since some of my subjects lived into the CD era, you will find covers from issues in that format that have no LP equivalent. I have also chosen to include box set reissue covers of historical material such as those from the Mosaic and Uptown labels.

At the outset, I had considered incorporating the cover art into the discographies themselves but decided that a separate display allowed a more through and undistracted appreciation of these often iconic items.

As you browse the various pages of covers found here, I’m sure you will encounter, with nostalgia, some old friends.

Lucky Thompson Solos

I have added a  table (pdf) that lists solos of Lucky Thompson by recording date and performance title between 1944 and 1973. The information, which includes solo duration, is also found in the discography, from which the data was extracted. Needless to say, this was an enormous amount of work, involving listening to every performance and using a lap counter in order to accurately determine solo duration in bars. And there were some interesting revelations along the way. For example, on the iconic Miles Davis All Star Sextet session of April 29, 1954 for Prestige Records, Lucky Thompson takes the longest solo on both “Walkin'” and “Blue ‘N’ Boogie,” 10 choruses on the former and 12 choruses on the latter, despite the presence of not only Davis but also bebop innovator trombonist J.J. Johnson and up-and-coming piano star Horace Silver. These solos exemplify the saxophonist at his very best on tenor, demonstrating his unique and artful construction along with elegance and passion. I doubt that there was any controversy over Thompson’s stretching out on Davis’ date after the musicians and producers listened to the playbacks.

The table can be found here.