Mann was an innovative jazz flautist and multi-instrumentalist, and a pioneer of jazz fusion and world music.
He was born Herbert Jay Solomon in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish parents, both dancers and singers. Initially a clarinet then saxophone player in the style of Lester Young, his first professional job was in the Catskills resort aged 15. Mann’s first jazz influence was Benny Goodman, who he heard play when he was nine.
Following four years in Europe with the US Army, his early jazz style of the 1950s was bebop (first as a side-man but latterly recording as a leader). He mainly played flute and occasionally bass clarinet (a rare jazz instrument of the time) and tenor saxophone with artists such as saxophonist Phil Woods.
In 1958 Mann formed his own group, which included a conga player, and in 1959 recorded an Afro-Cuban jazz album ‘Flautista’. In 1961 Mann recorded a bossa nova album in Brazil with local musicians including Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto. He was one of the first international artists to champion Brazilian music and helped popularise bossa nova in Europe and the US.
Mann recorded a number of pop and smooth jazz albums in the 1970s, which were influenced by Southern soul, blues rock, reggae, funk and disco. These brought some criticism from jazz purists, but this fusion of genres provided a musical outlet for his career at a time when interest in jazz was waning.
Mann died at the age of 73 after a long battle with prostate cancer.
Biography by John Rosie
In this second interview with Les Tomkins, Herbie Mann discusses where he has performed and how he was influenced by Brazilian music.
|Interview date||1st January 1964|
|Interview source||Jazz Professional|
|Image source credit||Tom Marcello|
|Image source URL||https://commons.wikimedia.org/wi...|
At the moment my group—Dave Pike (vibes), Attila Zoller (guitar), Don Friedman (piano), Ben Tucker (bass), and Bobby Thomas (drums)—is going through a transitional period. During the last few months we have switched from a percussive Afro approach to that of a marked South American nature.
You see, Brazilian music has shown me that music in general can still remain exciting and dramatic without having an overabundance of drums. In other words, the rhythm can be implied, rather than made obvious. We now have a more subtle approach, playing more straight jazz and bossa novas than anything else.
Sometime ago I spoke rather sharply about the many inferior and unsympathetic bossa nova recordings. I have changed my opinions slightly. I now feel that even though most of the non–Brazilian bossa nova records didn’t manage to capture the subtleties and warmth of the authentic Brazilian article, they shouldn’t be put down completely.
Jazz is a medium for individual approach to a song depending on the feeling or the interpretation of the musicians concerned—and that’s what I feel the majority of American produced bossa nova albums amount to.
In all honesty I think that our own group gets closer to the original than anyone else for a number of reasons. I believe that my own temperament is closer to that of the Brazilians than any American musicians who have entered this particular field. Moreover, the group has had more opportunities of hearing and playing new Brazilian compositions, and my guitarist, Attila Zoller, learned how to play bossa nova and other rhythms from listening to the recordings of guitarist Baden Powell. I consider Powell to be the finest exponent in the world of authentic contemporary Brazilian music. In fact, I used Powell as both musician and composer on the sessions I cut in Rio de Janeiro for Atlantic.
I feel that the sessions I cut in Rio are the best examples of the bossa nova and the progressive samba on disc. It’s the only album that really captures the true feeling of this wonderful music.
As far as I am concerned, the bossa nova is a modern samba. Most of the rhythm players in Brazil don’t play set patterns, but improvise as they feel. And do they swing! Unfortunately, many American percussionists stick to repetitious patterns, making for stodgy and uninspired results.
During the first week I was in Rio I listened to well over 75 compositions. From these I picked the ones I wished to record, then fixed arrangers, musicians and groups.
The numbers of Baden Powell and Antonio Carlos Jobim which I cut are true bossa novas, while the pieces of Sergio Mendez and Luis Carlos Vinhas are progressive sambas, for which the jazz group improvises on a progressive samba beat. For example, I recorded the late Clifford Brown’s “Blues Walk” with the Sergio Mendez Bossa Nova Rio Group.
This fine sextet comprises Mendez on piano, Paulo Moura (alto sax), Pedro Paulo (trumpet), Duval Ferreira (guitar), Otavio Bailly, Jnr. (bass) and Dom Um on drums. On the sides I cut with Baden Powell we used a bass player called Gabriel and alternated with two drummers, Papao and Juquinha.
Besides recording with Powell and Mendez I also cut sides with pianist Luis Carlos Vinhas and his trio and with a large string orchestra conducted by Antonio Carlos Jobim, who also sang and played piano on his now famous composition, “Samba De Una Nota So” (One Note Samba).
The other large group with which I recorded was the 17– piece Zezinho E Sua Escola De Samba (Zezinho and His School of Samba). This group is made up of carnival samba players who perform in the streets at a carnival or mardi gras, playing traditional music on such instruments as cuica, reco– reco, pandeiro, frigideira and surdo, among many others.
Over the last few years I have played all over the world and at every type of venue. Most of all I prefer giving. concerts. For me this is the ideal medium. People really come to hear the music and are interested in the instrumentalists. Knowing the length of time the group has been allotted, I can plan a session much better, picking the right tunes for the best impact.
During trips taking me to South America and the African continent I have collected over a hundred different flutes. For public appearances and recordings I use a concert flute in C, alto flute in G and E flat flute, plus a number of hand– made native flutes.
In the future I intend to incorporate more and more folk music from various countries into our programme.
The bossa nova will stay a part of my catalogue, along with the music I have gathered from other parts of the world combined with jazz. I feel that gypsy music and the folk music of Eastern Europe and the Middle East contains some wonderful rhythms and melodies to improvise on.
I have become interested in the combination of folk music and jazz since I honestly feel that American jazz has become sterile and far too academic. It badly needs some fresh excitement.
You know, when a musician meets with some commercial success and public acceptance, he always comes up against that section of the business which is only too eager to knock his success. A critic has to criticise otherwise he doesn’t feel he is doing his job.
Most critics concern themselves with what they term “pure art’s— art for art’s sake, not money. If an artist becomes popular they figure he has watered– down his music so that the lay public can enjoy and understand it. That is what the purist self– righteously believes.
Unless, that is, he is paid to write the liner notes for record albums. Then he does precisely what he accuses the ‘commercial’ jazz musician of doing.