He was the man.
Make that the Mann.
And the last few days of April continue to be Jazz Appreciation Month, so what better way to appreciate some scatting and sizzle more than any other musician, Herbie Mann. He was responsible for establishing the flute as an accepted jazz instrument; prior to his arrival, the flute was a secondary instrument for saxophonists, but Mann found a unique voice for the flute, presenting it in different musical contexts, beginning with Afro-Cuban, and then continuing with music from Brazil, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Japan, and Eastern Europe.
In The Evolution of Mann: Herbie Mann and the Flute in Jazz (Hal Leonard Books, $18.99), Cary Ginell explores Mann’s fascinating career, which spanned five decades, from his beginnings in a tiny Brooklyn nightclub to his appearances on international stages. “I want to be as synonymous with the flute as Benny Goodman is for the clarinet,” Mann was fond of saying. By the time he died of prostate caner in 2003, he had fulfilled his desires.
As Ginell explains, Mann never had a “business plan” for how he was going to achieve his loft aspirations. Instead, he relied on one word: opportunity. A self-described restless spirit, his insatiable curiosity about the world led him to experiment with different kinds of sounds, becoming a virtual Pied Piper of jazz. He was one of the first jazz musicians in the post-big band era to have commercial crossover success in the pop world, “opening the door” as Mann was fond of saying, to audiences beyond the comfort of the jazz nightclub scene of the 1950s.
As Mann once said, “People would say to me, 'I don't know where you are right now,' and I would respond, 'And you're not going to know where I'm going to be tomorrow.'”
In The Evolution of Mann, Ginell writes, “In getting to know Herbie toward the end of his life, I found he possessed a rare combination of passion, professionalism, business acumen, confidence, ego, and musical ability, but most of all, an insatiable curiosity, the combination of which enabled him to explore musical frontiers where no one before had thought of journeying.”
He was the man.