Here Comes the Mann

By Paul Doyle, Jr

One of the greatest pleasures of collecting music on vinyl is coming across that random album that you have never heard of, throwing it on the record player, and discovering a wonderful new aural world previously unknown to one’s peer group. Such was the case when I plucked Herbie Mann’s legendary 1969 release, Memphis Underground from a collection that someone was discarding in a move. I still remember laughing with giddy delight at this fantastic music that was unlike anything I had ever heard if for no other reason than the fact that it was led by a regular pied piper. Not only did I discover flute god Herbie Mann that day, a fact that still brings me musical pleasure, I was also turned on to the endless list of fabulous musicians who he recorded with over the years.

Memphis Underground featured not one, not two, but three of the sickest guitarist’s of all time, Larry Coryell, Sonny Sharrock, and Reggie Young. Mann’s acclaimed 1971 album, Push Push, features virtuosos Duane Allman and Cornell Dupree. It would be Allman’s last album before his untimely death on October 29th, 1971. Some of the other guitarists Mann has worked with over the years include, David Spinoza, Joćo Gilberto, Eddie Hinton, Jerry Freidman and Mick Taylor. His list of conspirators is equally impressive on any other instrument. These two albums are available on disc, but gems like Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty, Mississippi Gambler, and Reggae remain only on vinyl. Good luck finding them.

In October of 1997, Herbie Mann released two new albums. America/Brasil is compiled from Mann’s multi-night stand from April 25-30th, 1995 at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City, in celebration of his 65th birthday. The percussion laden release is 60 plus minutes of pleasure, with a strong South American influence. It is funky and rockin’ under the broad umbrella of jazz. Dancing is optional, except for me, I gotta dance. Fans of all types of music will enjoy the usual all star cast including the three musicians that Mann will be playing with at the Van Dyck. That quartet will feature yet another spectacular (Brazilian) guitarist, Romero Lubambo, Paul Socolow on hollow body electric bass, and Ricky Sebastian on drums.

Jazz enthusiasts in particular will love Mann’s other recent release Peace Pieces, the Music of Bill Evans. The liner notes by his producer, Orrin Keepnews explain that Evan’s "vivid creative imagination and deep capacity for lyricism literally altered the vocabulary of contemporary jazz piano." Mann replaces Evans piano with flute in this worthy tribute.

I had a chance to speak with Herbie Mann and discuss a fraction of his voluminous career including over 50 albums. Here is what the Mann had to say....



SVR: Over the years, you’ve worked with musicians from many different musical styles. How did these collaborations come about?

Mann: Music allows the great opportunity to play with people who turned you on and you love. My ego is controlled enough that I don’t have to be the focus. Their very presence makes the music interesting.

SVR: Many of your albums were structured around geographic locations representative of different significant musical scenes, such as Mississippi Gambler, Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty, Memphis Underground, London Underground, Discotheque and Reggae. Did you have a thematic approach to these works?

Mann: No, it just was that way. 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.

SVR: You have worked with so many famous musicians. Your acclaimed 1971 album, Push Push included Duane Allman on guitar. What was that like?

Mann: 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.

SVR: A lesser known guitarist that you worked with is Reggie Young. What can you tell us about him?

Mann: He’s an incredible player that only other musicians know. He was a studio player in Memphis. Down there, there are two kinds of music, it either feels good, or it don’t.

SVR: When you record with so many different musicians does it work better to keep the atmosphere relaxed and improvisational or do you impose more of a Zappa like structured control over the music?

Mann: What I try to do is produce an atmosphere where musicians want to invest in what they do and give to the recording. I hire those musicians who I know will play something creative and interesting.

SVR: Who are some musicians that you still would like to work with?

Mann: Ray Charles, Ivan Lins, (Brazilian composer, vocalist,) Carlinho Brown, Edward Simon, (Venezuelan pianist.) I have so much stuff I’d like to do.

SVR: For your upcoming show at the Van Dyck, who will you be playing with and what style will you be playing?

Mann: It’s a quartet, with Romero Lubambo on guitar (Brazilian), Paul Socolow on hollow body electric bass, and Ricky Sebastian on drums. It is a combination of everything I’ve ever played, second line, funk, straight ahead

SVR: A great deal of your career has been devoted to Brazilian music. How did your love of this music develop?

Mann: First I saw the movie Black Orpheus in 1959. For me Brazilian music is the perfect mix of melody and rhythm. It just bubbles rhythmically. If I had to pick just one music style to play if would be Brazilian.

SVR: Tell me about your recent release, Peace Pieces and the music of Bill Evans.

Mann: Bill Evans was my favorite pianist. I recorded Nirvana with him. He knew how to not to play, when to use space. He was a lyrical pianist. His style was like Debussey and Ravel.