Farlow was different from most any other guitarist of his generation. He did not play rhythmic chords, he preferred single note picking, usually clustered together to create a unique sound that was both gentle and dynamic that all helped to make him something of a legend among other guitarists, especially as he went into semi-retirement in the late 1950s when he was at the peak of his powers. It was his huge hands and his skill at playing fast and complex patterns that got him the nickname “Octopus”.
“The music Tal Farlow recorded for Norman Granz in the five year period between 1954 and 1959 is a remarkable legacy to be treasured.” – writer, Howard Alden.
Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1921 Talmadge Farlow began playing guitar at twenty-two, making him a late starter on the instrument that he mastered very quickly, joining the Marjorie Hyams’ band in 1948 and then Red Norvo’s Trio a year later. It was shortly afterwards that Charles Mingus also joined the band and it made for a perfect combination – Farlow’s style was honed while trying to keep up with Norvo’s rapid-fire vibes. He stayed with Norvo until 1953, which is when he joined Artier Shaw’s Gramercy Five. His first association with a Granz label was in 1954 when Artie Shaw and the Gramercy Five recorded a series of records for Clef.
It was also in 1954 that the Tal Farlow Quartet recorded for Norgran, as well as Blue Note. The band for his Norgran debut was Tal Farlow and Barry Galbraith on guitars; Oscar Pettiford on bass and drummer Joe Morello. The Tal Farlow Album was later reissued on Verve – just listen to ‘Gibson Boy’ and you will get what made Tal such an innovator – as was The Artistry of Tal Farlow. The album Autumn in New York he cut later in the year with pianist, Gerald Wiggins, Ray Brown on bass and Chico Hamilton on drums. Both are sublime records, way ahead of their time and an inspiration to many jazz guitarists that followed.
In 1955 he made a number of other records for Norgran as well as recording An Evening With Anita O’Day and another with Buddy DeFranco. Some other records in 1956 were followed by This is Tal Farlow in 1958 for Verve. A year later there were two sessions in December that created, Tal Farlow Plays The Music Of Harold Arlen and The Guitar Artistry Of Tal Farlow. And that was it for nearly a decade when he recorded for Prestige. Over the course of the next decade or so Tal recoded sporadically, mostly for Concord, but it was relatively few and far between. It was in the 1980s that he appeared more regularly having been profiled in the documentary film, “Talmage Farlow” as well as appearances in Europe with both Red Norvo and in his own name. He died of cancer in New York City in July 1998 at the age of seventy-seven.