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Tal Farlow – Jazz Guitar Great

Tal Farlow

Tal Farlow – Guitar – “The Octopus” 

(June 7, 1921 – July 25, 1998)


Jazz guitarist Tal Farlow was born on June 7th of 1921 in Greensboro, North Carolina.While I knew the name until this morning I had never listened to his music. So I headed over to Spotify and chose to listen to  Tal Farlow: The Complete Verve Sessions. Now I understand why Tal is considered to be one of the all-time great jazz guitarists.He has a distinctive sound and after some of the runs I heard I said wow!

After listening for a while I made my way over to both AllMusic and Wikipedia where I discovered that Tal Farlow’s nickname was the “Octopus” for his extremely large, which spread over the fretboard like large tentacles.While other guitarists  played chords and linear progressions, Tal Farlow liked to place single notes together in clusters, varying between harmonically enriched tones based on a startling new technique. As I listened I realized that one of the guitarists that his playing rminded me of was Chet Atkins.  Farlow originally learned to play jazz on the mandolin tuned like a ukulele listening to jazz records by greats such as Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, and Eddie Lang. He  didn’t start playing guitar until h was 21. Let’s see that would have been 1942……from Wikipdia

By 1948 he was playing with Margie Hyams’s band. Scooped up by Red Norvo, he made his mark on the musical world with the trio of the same name from 1949 to 1953. Unveiling virtuoso technique and original guitar mechanics – (such as harmonics and using the picking hand to play notes on the fret board), Tal Farlow became famous in the jazz world. His huge hands and ability to play rapid yet light lines earned him the nickname “Octopus”, and 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 moved to Sea Bright, New Jersey, He became a full-time sign painter, again. Tal Farlow released  only one record as a leader from 1960 to 1975. I listened to that album The Return of Tal Farlow and it is damn good! , TAl did record more often during the period between 1976 and 1984, Then Farlow largely disappeared again. Wikipedia lists 36 albums in his discography.The Editors Pick at AllMusic is The Swinging Guitar of Tal Farlow!

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


Links for Further Explorations of the Music of Tal Farlow…

All About Jazz
Last FM

Here’s Tal Farlow and Red Norvo performing “All of Me”