Trumpeter Art Farmer has played such smart and satisfying solos for so many years now--he first recorded in 1949--that you have to wonder why his name doesn't leap to more people's lips. For one answer, you could look to a series of romantic recordings Farmer cut with strings and jazz orchestras in the 1970s. They made him one of the most popular soloists with a certain segment of the jazz audience, but those albums--which were actually "smooth jazz," back before the term became a euphemism for "musical wallpaper with a saxophone motif"--also may have helped remove Farmer from hard-core listeners' radar. But though the settings haven't always been gold, Farmer's solos have remained flawlessly cut gems of improvisational intelligence. And to call him versatile would be an understatement: in the mid-50s he went directly from Horace Silver's band--a bastion of the earthy hard-bop sound associated with east-coast black musicians--to juggling polyphonic lead lines in Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartet, a group that epitomized the largely white and west-coast cool-jazz alternative. Since the mid-80s, Farmer has recorded album after album of tasteful but engrossing postbop jazz, a couple of which--1988's Blame It on My Youth (Contemporary) and 1995's The Meaning of Art (Arabesque)--would improve anyone's CD collection. The latter features saxist and former Chicagoan Ron Blake, who'll costar in the quintet Farmer brings to town; heading up the rhythm section is pianist Michael Weiss, who plays with a lithe touch but swings hard. Farmer himself now plays the flumpet, a cross between the trumpet of his youth and the flugelhorn of his middle years, which allows him to stretch out his consummate technique but doesn't constrict his butter-basted sound. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Nancy Ellison.