Thursday, March 13, 2014

Herbie Mann and Jazz Flute

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Herbie Mann is a brilliant flautist with a light, skipping attack and an unfailing rhythmic sureness.

Mann occupies a similar position to Charles Lloyd's in recent jazz history. Influential, but cursed by commercial success and an unfashionable choice of instrument, both have been subject to knee-jerk critical put-down. Where Lloyd's flute was his 'double', Mann's concentration slowly evolved a powerful and adaptable technique which gave him access to virtually every mood, from a breathy etherealism, down through a smooth, semi-vocalized tone that sounded remarkably like clarinet (his first instrument), to a tough, metallic ring that ideally suited the funk contexts he explored in the late 1960s.”
- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“Herbie Mann was the first Jazz musician to establish his career performing only on flute.”
- Christopher Washburne, Bill Kirchner, Ed. The Oxford Companion to Jazz

Herbie Mann [1930-2003] was my introduction to Jazz flute. It came in the form of an album Herbie did for Mode Records in 1956 entitled Flute Fraternity [Mode #114; reissued on CD as V.S.O.P. #38].

Joining him on the LP was fellow flutist [flautist?] Buddy Collette and a rhythm section comprised on Jimmy Rowles, Buddy Clark and Mel Lewis [one of the most underrated rhythm sections of all time].

Over the span of his career,  Mann was a prodigiously versatile instrumentalist and one of the most talented of jazz flutists, playing Latin jazz, bop, cool jazz, and jazz-rock with equal brilliance. He has restlessly explored many other popular and ethnic styles, mixing them and changing from one to another as musical fashion and his own developing interests dictate.

Leroy Ostransky offers this synopsis of Herbie’s career in Barry Kernsfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995]:

“Mann, Herbie [Solomon, Herbert Jay] (b New York, 16 April 1930). Flutist. He studied clarinet from the age of nine and later took up the flute and saxophone. He gained experience of playing during his three years' army service in Trieste, Italy, and after returning to the USA played and recorded with Mat Mathews (1953-4) and Pete Rugolo (1954). He toured France and Scandinavia in 1956, and in 1960 led a group which, under the sponsorship of the US State Department, visited 15 African countries; he became familiar with the bossa nova style on two tours of Brazil (1961—3) and in 1964 toured Japan. He then established a big band in which he played tenor saxophone and which was enthusiastically received when it appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965. Over the next few years he used elements of ethnic music and blues in his compositions.

In 1969 Mann became a record producer for Embryo, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. An astute sense of musical trends led him to begin playing rock music in 1971 and by 1973 he had formed his own group, Family of Mann, which incorporated sounds from many kinds of music, including Japanese court music, into its performances. In England in 1974 he experimented with rock once more and also played reggae; his disco recording Hi-jack was a hit in the USA in 1975, but after this success he immediately reverted to the style in which he had played in the early 1960s. Atlantic terminated his contract in 1979 and Mann started his own recording company, Herbie Mann Music, in 1981.”

Mann continued to lead his own groups that played a variety of musical styles including bossa-nova, reggae and Jazz fusion until his death in 2003 while occasionally celebrating his straight-ahead as was the case with a week-long residency at New York’s Blue Note Jazz club in honor of his 65th birthday.

Joe Quinn provided the following liner notes to Flute Fraternity [Mode #114; reissued on CD as V.S.O.P. #38].

“One of the happy by-products of the contemporary jazz scene has been the corporate union of identical instruments into small jazz groups. These ventures are the result of the musicians' experimental nature, and they have had wide popular acceptance as well as giving the performers an opportunity to realize fully the possibilities of their instruments. Jazz fans of varying intensity are thoroughly intrigued by the combination of two or more established jazz stars collaborating within the same framework.

The number of these sessions which have taken place after working hours is incalculable. The origin of such unions might be difficult to trace, but the impact on musician and listener alike is invariably one of stimulation and excitement. This MODE LP, featuring flutists Herbie Mann and Buddy Collette, adds still another chapter to the colorful history of fraternal instrumentation.

These two young men rank with half-a-dozen talented reed players who have lifted the flute from the confines of the classical orchestra to a place in the jazz spectrum. Independently, each man has advanced the stature of the instrument to a point where they have done LPs for various labels with everything from a trio to a full string orchestra. Musically, their lives are dedicated to enlarging the scope of the flute family because they believe that its piercing tone and subtle blending are deserving of full membership in the society of jazz instruments.

Herbie Mann has had a variety of jobs in the music business, relying on his clarinet tenor talents in the reed sections of various dance bands to sustain him during his break-in period. Once his reputation as a jazz flutist began to take shape, he formed his own group and has worked most of the major jazz clubs in America. In the late summer of 1956 he journeyed to Europe as a single and was an immediate success on the jazz-starved continent. His talents, as this LP will show, also extend to writing and arranging,

Buddy Collette is one of the most thoroughly schooled musicians to step into the jazz picture in the past decade. Although he came to national prominence as a member of the Chico Hamilton quintet, Buddy has had the respect of the music trade since his introduction. In addition to his brilliant flute work, Buddy is also proficient on clarinet and the tenor and alto saxophones. Twenty five of his original compositions have been recorded by major jazz stars, and his arrangements— two of which are heard here—have been among the most musically rewarding charts heard anywhere. At this writing, Buddy is fronting his own quartet, and is contemplating a national tour, possibly in union with Herbie Mann.

To support their collective instrumentation, Herbie and Buddy relied on the rhythm talents of three superior musicians who have attracted the approbation of jazz lovers everywhere. Pianist Jimmy Rowles has built a sterling reputation as a modernist with taste and touch adaptable to a variety of moods. Bassist Buddy Clark and drummer Mel Lewis make up 25 per cent of the Dave Pell Octet and contribute in their playing, the rapport that is born of frequent collaboration.”

My favorite track on Flute Fraternity is drummer Chico Hamilton’s bright composition Morning After which was arranged by Buddy Collette for the date and features his clarinet and Herbie's flute. The use of piano to underscore the voicing is in keeping with its classical lines.

You can listen to it on the following video tribute to Herbie Mann.

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