Herbie Mann, RIP
Herbie Mann, Jazz Musician, Is Dead at 73
erbie Mann, who helped to popularize the flute as a jazz instrument and to introduce the music of other cultures into the mainstream of American jazz, died late Monday at his cabin in Pecos, N.M., near Santa Fe, where he lived. He was 73. .
The cause was prostate cancer, his family announced.
Mr. Mann's first instrument was clarinet, and when he began his career he was primarily a tenor saxophonist. But by the late 1950's he was concentrating on flute, a choice almost unheard of for a jazz musician at the time.
Within a decade, the flute had become far more common in jazz, although then as now it was usually a second or third instrument for saxophonists. Much of the credit for its higher profile belonged to Mr. Mann, who by then had achieved a degree of popularity extending well beyond the confines of the jazz world, largely because of his willingness to look beyond that world for inspiration.
In 1962, he became one of the first American jazz artists to embrace Brazilian music and work with Brazilian musicians, recording an album in Brazil with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sergio Mendes and others. He later incorporated elements of African, Japanese and Middle Eastern music into his repertory.
American blues and soul were also part of the mix. His live recording of "Comin' Home Baby," an up-tempo blues with an infectious dance beat, was a hit in 1962. Later in the decade he expanded his audience with albums like "Memphis Underground," on which his working group was supplemented by Southern session musicians and the repertory had a contemporary rhythm-and-blues flavor.
The critics, for the most part, were not impressed. "To most jazz critics I was basically Kenny G," he said in an interview with United Press International last year. "I was too successful. I made too much money. Alternate fringe audiences liked me too much, so obviously that can't be important."
In the 1970's Mr. Mann put even more distance between himself and the jazz purists with albums whose titles — "Reggae," "Discothèque," "London Underground" — were often self-explanatory. He had two singles in Billboard magazine's Top 40, "Hijack" in 1975 and "Superman" in 1979.
Mr. Mann had recently been devoting more time to playing the Brazilian jazz and bebop that formed the core of his repertory early in his career. But while he acknowledged that he had sometimes been guilty of "accommodating the market," he never entirely disavowed his more commercial work. "I made disco records," he said. "Some of them I liked, some of them I hated."
Born Herbert Jay Solomon on April 16, 1930, in Brooklyn, Mr. Mann had his first clarinet lesson at 9, soon mastered saxophone and flute, and began performing while stationed in Italy with the United States Army in the early 50's. After being discharged in 1953, he worked with the Dutch jazz accordionist Matt Mathews and the arranger Pete Rugolo before going out on his own, first as a freelance soloist and then, in 1959, as the leader of his own group, the Afro-Jazz Sextet.
Mr. Mann toured extensively in the 60's, traveling to Africa under the auspices of the State Department as well as to Japan, Europe and Latin America.
After recording for Savoy, Verve and other labels, he began a long association with Atlantic Records in 1960, and a decade later he undertook a second career as a record producer and executive for the short-lived Atlantic subsidiary Embryo. In the early 1980's, after leaving Atlantic, he started his own label, Herbie Mann Music. He later briefly ran another label, Kokopelli.
Mr. Mann was an astute talent scout. Over the years he hired a number of young musicians who later became stars, among them the pianist Chick Corea and the vibraphonist Roy Ayers.
He is survived by his wife, Susan Janeal Arison; a son, Geoffrey, who played drums in his band, Sona Terra; another son, Paul; two daughters, Claudia Mann-Basler and Laura Mann; his mother, Ruth Solomon; and his sister, Judy Bernstein.
After four decades of multicultural exploration, Mr. Mann finally got around to the music of his own people in 2000 when he recorded "Eastern European Roots," an album of traditional songs and new compositions evoking his Jewish heritage.
"I wanted this to be my musical statement above all the rest," he said last year. "I love `Memphis Underground.' I loved the Brazilian music I played. But this is finally me. For the first time I think it's really me."