Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Mann, Herbie (Herbert Jay Solomon)

Flautist Herbie Mann was one of the first jazz musicians to reach out into world music, and he had a knack for finding crossover success. One of the first U.S. musicians to record in the bossa nova style, he experimented with many influences over his fifty-year career.

Herbie Mann was born Herbert Jay Solomon on April 16th, 1930 in Brooklyn, New York. Mann’s first musical lessons came on the clarinet at the age of nine, and not long after he began studying the saxophone and the flute. He attended Lincoln High School in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brighton Beach.

Mann joined the United States Army and spent three years stationed in Trieste, Italy, where he performed with an Army band. Upon his return to the United States, Mann played with Matt Mathews and Pete Rugolo between 1953 and 1954. He played flute in 1954 on vocalist Sarah Vaughan’s version of “Lullaby of Birdland," along with Clifford Brown and Roy Haynes.

Mann toured Europe in 1956, as life on the road would prove invaluable to his future inspiration as a performer and composer. In 1959, he went on his first U.S. State Department-sponsored tour, which took him to fifteen different countries in Africa. As a result, Mann started incorporating African elements into his music, and recorded Flautista, an Afro-Cuban album.

Mann’s second State Department tour took him to Brazil, where in Rio de Janeiro he heard a new form of music called bossa nova, which combined Afro-Brazilian rhythms with advanced, impressionistic harmonies. Mann and his tour mate Stan Getz were among the first to bring bossa nova back to the United States.

“For me, Brazilian music is the perfect mix of melody and rhythm. It just bubbles rhythmically," Mann said in an online interview. "If I had to pick just one music style to play, it would be Brazilian.” Mann’s time in Brazil led to recordings with pianist and composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and guitarist Joao Gilberto. They recorded the album Herbie Mann and Joao Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim, which featured Jobim’s well known composition “One Note Samba" and guitarist Baden Powell’s composition “Consolaçao."

In 1964, Mann formed his own big band, and briefly gave up the flute to perform on tenor saxophone. This big band made a memorable appearance at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival. In the late 1960s, Mann added a young pianist by the name of Chick Corea to his group. The recordings from this group can be found on the album The Complete Latin Band Sessions. Mann also continued to lead his own small ensemble, which included the young bassist Miroslav Vitous.

In 1968, Mann traveled to Memphis, Tennessee where he recorded one of his best-known songs, “Memphis Underground," with guitarist Larry Coryell, vibraphonist Roy Ayers, and organist Bobby Emmons. Mann stated that the reason this song works is because, “the rhythm section locked all in one perception.”

In 1969, Mann was hired as a producer by the Embryo label, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. During this period, Mann began to record more popular, crossover songs. His 1971 album Push Push featured Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman. Mann described how he met Allman: “I had sat in one day in Central Park with Bonnie and Delaney, and Duane was playing with them, so I asked if he wanted to work on an album. You never had to say to him how to play the guitar."

Many of Mann’s albums included references to specific geographic locations, of which he said, “I don’t have a map with little pins in it. Basically when I have a musical idea, I find the musicians that play that genre easily. It is just as valid to go to Muscle Shoals to record that music as it is to go to Jamaica and Brazil to record that music.”

In 1974, Mann went to London, England where he recorded some reggae material and in 1975 his recording Hi Jack became a big hit in the United States. He then returned to his Brazilian roots, which by this time had faded from popularity, and he was dropped by Atlantic Records in 1979. He formed his own label, Herbie Mann Music, in the early 1980s. His career began to slow, but his work continued to live on through bands like Sublime, who sampled his rendition of “Summertime,” and by the hip-hop group the Beatnuts, who sampled “Hi-jack” for their 1997 hit song “Watch Out Now.”

In the last two decades of his life, Mann recorded and performed almost exclusively in the Brazilian style. He released several albums before his death including Jasil Brazz in 1987 and America Brazil in 1997.

Herbie Mann died from prostate cancer on July 1st, 2003. Mann’s musical career had its moments of redundancy, but without his contributions to the exposure of the bossa nova style, the new music might never have reached the popular heights it achieved. His later work established him as a musician who was able to successfully bridge different musical styles and proved that jazz musicians could do this and achieve commercial success at the same time.

Select Discography

As Herbie Mann

Flautista: Herbie Mann Plays Afro-Cuban Jazz (Verve, 1959)

Live at Newport (Atlantic, 1963)

Herbie Mann and Joao Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim (Verve, 1965)

Impressions of the Middle East (Atlantic, 1966)

Memphis Underground (Atlantic, 1969)

Push Push (Atlantic, 1971)

London Underground (Atlantic, 1974)

Reggae (Atlantic, 1974)

Contributor: Jared Pauley