[JPL] Re: bio of G. McFarland

Peter Solomon psolomon at ideastations.org
Tue Sep 19 14:38:20 EDT 2006

I noticed that there was a reference to Gary McFarland's music and I
thought his story might be of interest. The circumstances surrounding his
death were unusual, to say the least. This writeup is by Doug Payne. Peter

Gary McFarland

Largely forgotten now, Gary McFarland was one of the more significant
contributors to orchestral jazz during the early '60s. An "adult prodigy,"
as Gene Lees accurately noted, McFarland was an ingenious composer whose
music could reveal shades of complex emotional subtlety and clever
childlike simplicity. While in the Army, he became interested in jazz and
attempted to play trumpet, trombone, and piano. In 1955, he took up
playing the vibes. Displaying a quick ability for interesting writing, he
obtained a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music. He spent one
semester there and with the encouragement of pianist John Lewis,
concentrated on large-band arrangements of his own compositions. He
attained early notoriety and success working with Gerry Mulligan, Johnny
Hodges, John Lewis, Stan Getz, Bob Brookmeyer, and Anita O'Day. McFarland
began devoting more attention to his own career by 1963 when he released
what is often regarded as his most significant recording, The Gary
McFarland Orchestra/Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans. He also recorded in
small-group settings, which featured his clever vibes playing. The success
of his instrumental pop collection, Soft Samba, allowed McFarland to form
his first performing group. But his recordings thereafter, more often than
not, featured an easy listening instrumental pop bent. McFarland went on
to excellent work with Gabor Szabo, Shirley Scott, Zoot Sims, and Steve
Kuhn, but only rarely featured his outstanding compositional talents (as
in 1968's America the Beautiful). He formed the short-lived Skye Records
label with Szabo and vibist Cal Tjader in the late 60s and continued to
record prolifically. By the late 60s, though, he was forgotten by his
initial jazz followers and he died in 1971 after being poisoned in a New
York City bar. 
- By Douglas Payne 
All Music Group

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