Monday , July 22 2024

Belated Farewell to Herbie Mann

In the mad blizzard of news we somehow neglected to mention the passing of jazz flute great Herbie Mann on July 1:

    Herbie Mann, the versatile jazz flutist who combined a variety of musical styles and deeply influenced trends such as world music and fusion, has died. He was 73.

    Mann, who had battled prostate cancer since 1997, died late Tuesday, according to a friend, Sy Johnson. A funeral home in Santa Fe said it was making arrangements with Mann’s family.

    Mann had moved to Santa Fe in the late 1980s after spending most of his life in his native New York City.

    Mann was known for performing different musical styles and creatively combining them. Always seeking out new rhythms and harmonies, he toured the world, spending time in Africa, Brazil and Japan.

    Family of Mann, formed in 1973, played world music before it was called that. Mann’s best-selling “Memphis Underground” was a founding recording of fusion.

    He continued to work diligently on his music at a time most people consider retirement.

    “I’m playing better than I’ve ever played,” Mann said in a 1995 Associated Press interview. “I’m practicing. I always thought I could get by just with my natural instincts. As far as I’m concerned, almost everything I’ve done in the past has been on the surface or just a hair below. Now I’m getting serious.”

    When he left Atlantic Records in 1979 he started producing his own records, and later he launched his own label, Kokopelli. In all, he made more than 100 albums as leader.

    Touring, he said, was “a killer, the hours and food. I always thought if you made good records your records could do the traveling for you.”

    Album titles reflect Mann’s versatility: “At the Village Gate” (1962); “African Suite” (1959); “Brasil, Bossa Nova & Blues” (1962); “Latin Mann” 1965; “Memphis Two Step” (1971); and “Eastern European Roots” (2000).

    “As much as I love music, I never really thought it was my life. I thought it was the vehicle I used to express my life,” he said. [AP]

Here’s more bio from his website:

    Herbie was born in Brooklyn, New York, on April l6, l930, as Herbert Jay Solomon. He expressed his love of music by using the only resources available — pots and pans. In an attempt to pacify disgruntled neighbors, his mother tried to rechannel his musical interests by taking him to a Benny Goodman concert at the Paramount when he was nine years old. It worked and two weeks later he had a clarinet. Though the academics of music were never appealing to Herbie, his love of playing and music were what turned his focus eventually to the tenor saxophone and later to the that instrument with which he’s been so identified, the flute. By fourteen he was playing tenor at gigs in the Catskills and in l948 he entered the US Army where he spent nearly four years in Trieste, Italy, playing with the 98th Army Band.

    Once he was out of the Army and back on the New York music scene, he worked hard at carving out a place for himself. However, like so many other tenor saxophone players of that time, Herbie’s style was derivative of Lester Young’s so it was difficult to stand out from the rest. When the Dutch accordionist, Mat Matthews, told him he was looking for a jazz flute player for the first album by the then unknown Carmen McRae, Herbie immediately jumped at the opportunity and spent days “woodshedding” before going into the studio. With this opportunity he was able to distinguish himself from other players as a jazz flutist, of which there were only a handful.

    Herbie’s reputation as a flutist took a distinctive turn in l958, when he followed legendary jazz DJ Symphony Sid Torin’s suggestion that he add a conga player to his group. This added rhythmic element boosted Herbie’s popularity and the list of Latin percussionists who played with him in the late 50’s and 60’s reads like a Who’s Who of the genre: Candido, Ray Barretto, Olatunji, Potato Valdes, Willie Bobo and others. Audiences around the world loved this sound. It was during this period that he recorded the legendary HERBIE MANN AT THE VILLAGE GATE album and did a month long tour of Africa for the State Department.

    Despite his increased popularity, Herbie felt frustrated by the simplicity of the Latin and African melodies and the monotony of their rhythms. So, in l961 when he heard about a tour of American players going to Brazil, he convinced his manager, Monty Kay, that he had to go, too. This experience changed his musical life more than any other experience before or since. At last here were complex, beautiful melodies supported by compelling rhythms!

Speaking of which, I recently picked up the double album CD Do the Bossa Nova/My Kinda Groove (the former originally from ’62, the latter from ’65) on the cheap at Borders and highly recommend you do the same if you find it.

Do the Bossa Nova features Mann teaming with Brazilian legends Antonio Carlos Jobim and Sergio Mendes, grooving and tweeting his way through great tunes by Oscar Castro Neves, Vinicius de Moraes, Mann himself and Jobim (who also sings on his own standard “One Note Samba”). Mann’s limpid flute works particularly well with the languid tempos and strings of Jobim’s “Amor em Paz” and “One Note Samba,” and Baden Powell’s “Consolacao” (where Powell’s nylon-string guitar particularly shines).

The Latin beats continue on My Kinda Groove: Willie Bobo and Potato Valdez’s percussion distinguish “Blues In the Closet” and the delicate, mysterious “Morning After Carnival” (brilliantly evocative title), “Spanish Grits” charges along with spunk, and “Vikki” is beautifully lethargic, with counterpoint horns and cool vibes for color.

Farewell Herbie, rest in peace!

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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