Gary McFarland was one of the more significant contributors to orchestral jazz during the 1960s. He had an unfortunately short career. But he was surprisingly productive in the brief decade he was captured on record (1960-70). An adult prodigy, as Gene Lees once noted, McFarland was an ingenious composer whose music revealed 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 in 1959 and with the encouragement of pianist John Lewis, concentrated on large-band arrangements of his own compositions.
He attained early notoriety and success through top-drawer affiliations (Anita O'Day, Bob Brookmeyer), outstanding melodic compositions (for Gerry Mulligan and Johnny Hodges), unique arrangements (his own interpretation of Frank Loesser's Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business...) and an early devotion and sympathetic understanding of the bossa nova (Stan Getz, Bob Brookmeyer).
McFarland began devoting more attention to his own career and in 1963 released what is often regarded as his most significant recording “The Gary McFarland Orchestra/Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans” - a sublime, evocative score that revels in its simplicity. He also started recording in small-group settings which began to feature his own vibes playing (Point of Departure).