Tal Farlow

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Tal Farlow
Tal Farlow 5.jpg
Background information
Birth nameTalmage Holt Farlow
Born(1921-06-07)June 7, 1921
Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S.
OriginNew York City
DiedJuly 25, 1998(1998-07-25) (aged 77)
New York City
LabelsNorgran, Verve, Xanadu, Prestige, Blue Note, Concord
Associated actsRed Norvo, Artie Shaw, Great Guitars[1]

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. As Steve Rochinski notes, "Of all the guitarists to emerge in the first generation after Charlie Christian, Tal Farlow, more than any other, has been able to move beyond the rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic vocabulary associated with the early electric guitar master. Tal's incredible speed, long, weaving lines, rhythmic excitement, highly developed harmonic sense, and enormous reach (both physical and musical) have enabled him to create a style that clearly stands apart from the rest."[2] 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."[3]


Talmage Holt Farlow was born in Greensboro, in 1921. He taught himself how to play guitar, which he started when he was twenty-two years old.[4] He learned chord melodies by playing a mandolin tuned like a ukulele. He said 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. He listened to Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, and Eddie Lang. 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 employed artificial harmonics and tapped his guitar for percussion, creating a flat, snare drum sound or a hollow backbeat like the bongos.[4] His large, quick hands earned him the nickname "The Octopus".

He caught the public's attention in 1949 when he was in a trio with Red Norvo and Charles Mingus. In 1953, he was a member of the Gramercy Five led by Artie Shaw, and two years later he led his own trio with Vinnie Burke and Eddie Costa in New York City. After getting married in 1958, he partially retired[4] 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. He made one album as a leader from 1960–1975.

In 1976, Farlow started recording again. A documentary about him was released in 1981.[4]

Later in his career Tal performed as a member of Great Guitars with a DVD released in 2005 after his death. [1]

Farlow died of esophageal cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on July 25, 1998, at the age of 77.[5]


As leader or co-leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Sonny Criss

With Buddy DeFranco

  • Sweet and Lovely (Verve Records, 1955, quintet featuring Sonny Clark)
  • The Great Encounter (Progressive Records, 1977)

With Howard McGhee

With Gil Mellé

With the Metronome All-Stars

With Red Norvo

  • The Red Norvo Trio with Tal Farlow and Charles Mingus: The Savoy Sessions (Savoy / Arista, 1976 anthology of Savoy recordings from 1950-1951)
  • Red Norvo with Strings (Fantasy Records, 1955, featuring the Red Norvo Trio with Tal Farlow and Red Mitchell)

With Oscar Pettiford

With Artie Shaw]

  • Artie Shaw & His Gramercy Five, vols. 1-4 (Clef Records, 1954)


  1. ^ a b "Charlie Byrd, Tal Farlow and Herb Ellis". MelBay.com. MelBay.com. Retrieved 19 Dec 2005.
  2. ^ Rochinski, Steve (1994). The Jazz Style of Tal Farlow: The Elements of Bebop Guitar Hal Leonard.
  3. ^ Stuart Nicholson, "Axe of the Apostles," Wire, September 1990, p. 72
  4. ^ a b c d 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.
  5. ^ Watrous, Peter (28 July 1998). "Tal Farlow, 77, Jazz Guitarist Rooted in Bop". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "Tal Farlow | Album Discography | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 September 2017.

External links[edit]