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SUNDAY READING

THE MIRROR : How Others See Us : Jazz Lessons

January 05, 1986

Flugelhornist Art Farmer, who now lives in Vienna, remembers L.A. life. From "Here and Abroad" by Whitney Balliett. 1985 Whitney Balliett. Originally in The New Yorker.

"The summer after the third year of high school, Addison (Farmer's late twin brother) and I went to Los Angeles to look around, and we got involved in so many things we decided to stay. We met Hampton Hawes and Sonny Criss and Eric Dolphy. Our mother said, 'All right, but I want you to finish high school.' We got a room and enrolled in Thomas Jefferson High. The big bands were still going, but a lot of the best players were in the service, so we were able to get jobs we ordinarily couldn't have gotten. We went with Horace Henderson and Floyd Ray and Jimmy Mundy. Between times, we worked in a cold-storage warehouse, stacking crates of Idaho potatoes. Sometimes there was no work of any kind, but it was 'If we don't eat today, what the hell--we'll eat tomorrow.' We met Charlie Parker. I can't remember a bad experience with him. He always paid Addison back when he borrowed money. He'd stay here, there, everywhere. He slept on our couch for a while. He and Addison and I would walk up Central Avenue and wangle our way into movies that were half over, and one time we stopped at an after-hours place called Lovejoy's, and Bird sat in with this real poor piano player. I told him later that I was surprised he had done that, and he said, 'You take every opportunity you can.' . . .

"Young black musicians caught hell in Los Angeles in the late '40s and early '50s. White musicians had the work at the few clubs sewed up, and it wasn't easy getting into the studios, even if you were good enough, which I wasn't. I was scuffling, real hard. I was a hotel janitor, and a file clerk at County General Hospital. But I still managed to play with all sorts of people--Benny Carter and Gerald Wilson and Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray. Wardell, who'd been with people like Benny Goodman, was a big brother to me. Then Lionel Hampton came through, and I was offered a job, even though he already had five trumpet players. Wardell told me I'd be making a mistake if I took it--that they didn't play anything but 'Flyin' Home' and 'Hamp's Boogie-Woogie.' But Lionel was a gift to young musicians, and I learned things in that band I couldn't have learned anywhere else."

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