Tal Farlow

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Tal Farlow
Tal Farlow 5.jpg
Background information
Birth name Talmage Holt Farlow
Born (1921-06-07)June 7, 1921
Greensboro, North Carolina, United States
Died July 25, 1998(1998-07-25) (aged 77)
New York City, New York
United States
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Guitar
Labels Fantasy, Concord
Associated acts Red Norvo, Artie Shaw

Talmage Holt Farlow (June 7, 1921 – July 25, 1998) was an American jazz guitarist. Nicknamed the "Octopus", for his extremely large hands spread over the fretboard as if they were tentacles, he is considered one of the all-time great jazz guitarists. Where other similar players of his day combined rhythmic chords with linear melodies, Farlow preferred placing single notes together in clusters, varying between harmonically enriched tones based on a startling new technique.


Farlow was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1921. Nearly as famous for his reluctance to perform publicly as for his outstanding abilities, he did not take up the instrument until he was 21, but within a year was playing professionally and in 1948 was with Marjorie Hyams' band. While with the Red Norvo Trio from 1949 to 1953, Farlow became famous in the jazz world. His huge hands and ability to play rapid yet light lines, which earned him the nickname "Octopus", made him one of the top guitarists of the era. After six months with Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five in 1953, Farlow put together his own group, which for a time included pianist Eddie Costa.

In 1958, Farlow retired from full-time performing and settled in Sea Bright, New Jersey, returning to a career as a sign painter. He continued to play occasional dates in local clubs, however.[1] In 1962 the Gibson Guitar Corporation, with Farlow's participation, produced the "Tal Farlow" model in their prestigious Artist Model line. The guitar seen in the picture at right being played by Farlow is a prototype model. The production model has a mandolin-style scroll at the top of the body.

Farlow made only one record as a leader during 1960–1975, but emerged more often during 1976–1984, recording for Concord fairly regularly before largely disappearing again. He was profiled in the documentary film, Talmage Farlow, made in 1980/81. The guitarist can be heard on his records for Blue Note (a 10" LP in 1954), Norgran (later Verve, 1954–60), and Prestige (1969), as well as those for Concord. In 1991, Tal recorded in Paris "Standards Recital" (Elabeth) in duet with Philippe Petit, the french Jazz guitar player.

Farlow died of esophageal cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on July 25, 1998, at the age of 77.[2]


With Sonny Criss


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