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, U.S.
Origin New York City
Died July 25, 1998(1998-07-25) (aged 77)
New York City
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Guitar
Labels Norgran, Verve, Xanadu, Prestige, Blue Note, Concord
Associated acts Red Norvo, Artie Shaw
Notable instruments
Gibson Tal Farlow

Talmage Holt Farlow (June 7, 1921 – July 25, 1998) was an American jazz guitarist. He was nicknamed "Octopus" because of how his large, quick hands spread over the fretboard. Where guitarists of his day combined rhythmic chords with linear melodies, Farlow placed single notes together in clusters, varying between harmonically enriched tones. As music critic Stuart Nicholson put it, "In terms of guitar prowess it was the equivalent of Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile."[1]


Talmage Holt Farlow was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1921.[2] He taught himself how to play guitar. He learned chord melodies by playing a mandolin tuned like a ukulele and listened to Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, and Eddie Lang. He said his playing the ukulele was the reason he used the higher four strings on the guitar for the melody and chord structure, with the two bottom strings for bass counterpoint, which he played with his thumb. His only professional training was as an apprentice sign painter. He requested the night shift so he could listen to big band standards on the shop radio. His career was influenced by hearing Charlie Christian playing electric guitar with the Benny Goodman band. He said he made his own electric guitar because he couldn't afford one.

Farlow made an impression on the jazz world when he played in a trio with Red Norvo and Charles Mingus from 1949 to 1953.[2] He used virtuoso technique and guitar mechanics, such as harmonics and using the picking hand to play notes on the fret board. His large, quick hands earned him the nickname "The Octopus".

When Farlow was married in 1958, he retired from full-time performing[2] and settled in Sea Bright, New Jersey, returning to a career as a sign painter. He continued to play occasional dates in local clubs. In 1962 the Gibson Guitar Corporation, with Farlow's participation, produced the "Tal Farlow" model.

Farlow made one album as a leader during 1960–1975, but emerged more often during 1976–1984, recording for Concord before disappearing again. He was profiled in the documentary Talmage Farlow (1981).

Farlow died of esophageal cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on July 25, 1998, at the age of 77.[3]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Sonny Criss

With the Metronome All-Stars

With Oscar Pettiford


  1. ^ Stuart Nicholson, "Axe of the Apostles," Wire, September 1990, p. 72
  2. ^ a b c Robinson, J. Bradford; Kernfeld, Barry (2002). Kernfeld, Barry, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc. p. 740. ISBN 1-56159-284-6. 
  3. ^ Watrous, Peter (28 July 1998). "Tal Farlow, 77, Jazz Guitarist Rooted in Bop". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]