Jazz Flutist Herbie Mann Dies at 73
SANTA FE, N.M. – Herbie Mann, a versatile jazz flutist whose restless search for new sounds took him around the world and influenced a generation of musicians, has died at 73.
Diagnosed six years ago with inoperable prostate cancer, Mann died late Tuesday at his home in Pecos, near Santa Fe, with his family at his bedside. “It was very peaceful,” said his daughter, Claudia Mann-Basler.
Mann was tireless in his efforts to expand his own musical horizons, and was an early practitioner of fusion and world music. At times, his music defied categories.
“He really did extend the vocabulary of jazz. … I think it’s a devastating loss to the music community,” said Robert O’Meally, director of Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies.
Mann, who moved to the Santa Fe area in 1989 after spending most of his life in his native New York City, performed for the last time on May 3 at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He got a standing ovation as he walked on stage, lugging a bottle of oxygen with him to help him cope with the cancer that had spread to his bones six months earlier.
“It wasn’t just a jazz fest. It was a love fest,” said his wife, Susan Janeal Arison, who accompanied him. “I think sometimes he didn’t really realize how much he was appreciated. He was a path maker.”
Sy Johnson, a New York City composer and music arranger who knew Mann for some 40 years, called him “a wonderful Pied Piper of jazz, drawing our attention to what’s happening around the world and the country.”
Mann experimented with various styles, then combined them. He explored the music of Africa, India, Cuba, Jamaica, the Middle East, Japan and Brazil.
The group Family of Mann, formed in 1973, played world music before it was called that. Mann’s best-selling “Memphis Underground” was a founding recording of fusion.
If a genie offered Mann anything he wanted, he said in a 1995 Associated Press interview, he would choose a big band including three rhythm sections for straight-ahead jazz, Brazilian music and soul.
“I’d be able to play all that music; I wouldn’t have to play any one thing all the time,” he said. “And I would always like to try to evolve the music to another step. Once you reach the point where you play it perfectly in a genre, to me it gets boring. Then I want to try to evolve by combining things.”
When he was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, he began thinking about his musical legacy, Arison said.
“He made a musical odyssey throughout most of the world’s music, but he never really tapped into the music of his own origins √≥ Eastern Europe,” his wife said.
At 70, he put out a CD called “Eastern European Roots.”
“I’ve played Cuban music, but I’m not Cuban,” he once told the Rocky Mountain News. “I’ve played Brazilian music, but I’m not Brazilian. I’ve played jazz, but I’m not African-American. What I am is an Eastern European Jew. I love all the music I’ve played, but I wanted something that is mine.”
When he left Atlantic Records in 1979 he started producing his own records, and later he began his own label, Kokopelli. In all, he made more than 100 albums as a leader.
His last four albums were released by Lightyear Entertainment, which on Wednesday called him “a giant and a visionary.”
“The years of pleasure he has given have touched millions. He will be sorely missed,” said Lightyear President Arnie Holland.
Born Herbert Solomon in Brooklyn in 1930, he started his career when he was 15, playing in groups at Catskill Mountain resorts for the summer. He studied saxophone but preferred flute. In the 1950s, after three years in the Army playing with the Army Band in Trieste, Italy, Mann toured France and Scandinavia.
He credited visits to Africa and Brazil in the early 1960s with changing his musical outlook.
“When I came back (from Africa), I hired (Babatunde) Olatunji, a Nigerian drummer living here, and we started doing music based on African motifs,” he told the AP.
As for the Brazil tour, he said, “Revelation doesn’t touch it. Up to that point, the ethnic music I had heard had 14 drums playing different parts but the melodies were very simple. Then I saw the `Black Orpheus’ movie and heard multiple rhythm parts along with the most beautiful melodies in the world.”
He returned and recorded with Brazilian musicians, including Antonio Carlos Jobim and a 19-year-old Sergio Mendes.
“As much as I love music, I never really thought it was my life. I thought it was the vehicle I used to express my life,” he said.
Mann founded the Herbie Mann Prostate Cancer Awareness Music Foundation, which provided onsite screenings for thousands of men at concerts and other events.
Mann is also survived by his mother, Ruth Solomon of Hallandale, Fla.; sister Judi Burnstein of Niceville, Fla.; sons Paul Mann of San Francisco and Geoff Mann of New York City; and daughter Laura Mann of New York City.
Jazz Flutist Herbie Mann Dies at 73