Joe Farrell's CTI albums of 1970-1976, which combined together his hard bop style with some pop and fusion elements, made him briefly popular among listeners not familiar with his earlier work. Farrell began playing clarinet when he was 11 and, after graduating from the University of Illinois in 1959, he moved to New York where he worked with the Maynard Ferguson Big Band (1960-1961) and Slide Hampton (1962), and recorded with Charles Mingus, Dizzy Reece, and a notable series with Jaki Byard (1965).
A member of both the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (1966-1969) and Elvin Jones' combo (1967-1970), Farrell's distinctive sound on tenor and general versatility were assets. A member of the original version of Return to Forever (1971-1972), Farrell was fairly prosperous during the 1970s when his solo CTI records sold well, but a drug problem gradually caught up with him.
After performing with Mingus Dynasty in the late '70s and recording with Louis Hayes in 1983, he moved to Los Angeles where he scuffled during his last couple of years. Farrell died from bone cancer in 1986 at age 48.
In addition to CTI, Farrell recorded as a leader for Warner Bros., Xanadu, Contemporary, RealTime, Timeless, and (with Airto and Flora Purim) Reference. ~ Scott Yanow.