Jazz flutist, composer, bandleader and one of the pioneers of the Bossa Nova movement Herbie Mann died July 1 of prostate cancer at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 73. Mann started out on clarinet and tenor saxophone but switched to flute for Carmen McRae's debut album. His recordings with Brazil's top players in the early 1960s were the first to combine Brazilian and American music. Mann continued to explore new musical ground with subsequent albums and tours around the world.
Herbie Mann was a musical everyman. His restless spirit took him to Brazil and Africa where he mined for new sounds that he instantly incorporated into his jazz repertoire.
Herbie Mann was born Herbert Solomon on April 16, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York. He wanted to be a drummer but after seeing bandleader Benny Goodman at the Paramount Theatre he decided to play the clarinet. He later added tenor sax because he was enamored with the music of Coleman Hawkins, but when jazz accordionist Mat Mathews sought a flute player to record with singer Carmen McRae, Mann joined his quintet. Mann says he settled on flute because there were virtually no other jazz flutists in the business and its originality got him noticed.
"The first music was a drum and the second was flute-like. So there are unlimited possibilities," he said. "There were not any role models, so I listened to trumpeters Miles Davis and Clifford Brown. So it was easier because there was nobody to compare me to."
Mann's popularity grew when he started his Afro-Jazz Sextet in the late 1950s. He worked with percussionists Candido and Chano Pozo at the coveted Monday night show at Birdland in New York. Afro-Cuban jazz became Mann's mainstay on his early solo albums with percussionists Ray Barretto, Willie Bobo and others.
The highlight of Herbie Mann's career came in 1961, when he convinced his manager to send him on a tour of Brazil with an all-star band that included Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Zoot Simms and Jo Jones. Mann was captivated by Brazilian music, by its rhythms and melodies. That same year he recorded one of his best-selling jazz albums, "Herbie Mann At The Village Gate," featuring his Latin-flavored hit, "Comin' Home Baby."
Herbie Mann continued to meld the music of world cultures with his own cool jazz sound. He even ventured outside jazz when rock and disco emerged. He found new audiences with albums like "Memphis Underground" which combined jazz with rock and soul. In all, he recorded more than 100 albums as a leader and even made it to the pop charts with his 1974 instrumental hit "Hijack."
In a 1990 interview with VOA, the versatile jazz veteran, recovering from prostate cancer, reflected that while he's played all types of jazz, often combining it with a variety of ethnic music, he began focusing on the music of his own Eastern European heritage.
"I have played Brazilian, Cuban, African, Jamaican, Indian, Japanese. And I have been in a three-year adventure with prostate cancer, which is now in remission. And once you have cancer as part of your life, you start looking back at your life," he said. "And I am not Brazilian. And I am not Cuban. I am not Jamaican. I am not Japanese. I am an eastern European Jew. My mother was born in Bukhavina when it was part of Romania. My father's father is from Kiev [Ukraine]. So I have been writing this music and putting it away, because I never felt it had a place. But now, it's time for me to play music, along with the other, of what I consider my roots."
Jazz flutist Herbie Mann gave his final live performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on May 3. He was 73 when he died of cancer at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico on July 1.