Born Joseph Carl Firrantello in Chicago, Mr. Farrell attended the University of Illinois, where he majored in flute. In the late 1950s, he established himself as one of Chicago`s most promising young jazz tenor saxophonists, often playing alongside two of his key influences, Johnny Griffin and Ira Sullivan.
In 1960, Mr. Farrell moved to New York, where he worked and recorded with Maynard Ferguson, Jaki Byard, Charles Mingus, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and the Elvin Jones Trio.
Still best known as a tenor saxophonist, in this period Mr. Farrell also began to display his talents on the soprano saxophone and the flute. It was on these instruments that he was most prominently featured when he joined Corea`s influential jazz-fusion group Return to Forever in 1972. Mr. Farrell also began to record under his own name, making several popular albums for the CTI, such as “Outback”, “Moon Germs”, “Penny Arcade” and “Canned Funk”, 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.
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Farrell moved to Los Angeles, where he became a sought-after studio musician. In 1979, he toured and recorded with Mingus Dynasty, a band of ex-Charles Mingus sidemen and recorded and album with Louis Hayes in 1983.
Mr. Farrell returned to Chicago to perform at the Jazz Showcase–his first solo, hometown engagement in almost 25 years. A Tribune review of that performance praised Mr. Farrell`s technical mastery, his perfectly focused tone and his rich fund of melodic and harmonic ideas.
Farrell passed away in 1986 from MDS in Los Angeles, California at the age of 48. He is survived by a daughter, Cathy, and a sister, Santa Danico.