Herbie Mann: An Amalgamation of Everything
It was time to move on to other things. I changed my bands a lot and traveled quite a bit, and I found other musicians to experiment with. Then I got very involved with seeing if I could take the disco concept and combine it with improvising. I was probably the first improviser to do this. Now, it takes just as much balls to say, "Well screw the Village Voice and screw Downbeat; I have enough balls to try something that if it works is going to be very successful and is gonna be really put down by the critics."
Well, "Hijack" was a very big record. It came out at about the same time as "The Hustle." That was the very beginning of disco music. And it was the biggest single I ever had; it sold 750,000 copies. It was like number ten on the charts. Every ten minutes, I heard it on WABC [the New York City top-forty AM radio station]. Then the mistake was that I tried to follow that success by repeating it, and I did four other albums that were basically disco. Of course, again, what had happened was that everybody else, all the record companies and artists had seen that this was another opportunity to get to the masses. So here was the same thing again; it was all over the place. And now what do I do to save my head from going insane?
So, last year, I met some people from Brazil at the Montreux festival and started listening to some new music from Brazil, and I met a couple of musicians here, like Amaury Tristao, who played on the Brazil: Once Again album. I started getting some new records, and I started hearing that there's a whole new generation of people. It's been since '6215 years. There were people that were eight and nine years old at the time who are now writing music. So, there was an opportunity, because I'm always interested in rhythmic music. I find it much more interesting than four beats to the measure. Not that we don't do that now. As a change of pace, we're playing standards, and we're playing bebop tunes, and people have never heard them. It's a whole new revelation to all these people.
JAA: Are you doing those kinds of things on your next album?
HM: Well, we just finished an album, [Sunbelt (Atlantic, 1979)]. On it there's a Richard Tee tune, there's couple of new Brazilian songs, and we redid "Watermelon Man." I wanted to get away from using a keyboard player. I find that no matter how sensitive a keyboard player isand I've had beautiful players. Chick Corea played with me, Herbie Hancock...
JAA: You also played with Bill Evans.
HM: Right. Also, Pat Rebillot, and I recorded with Richard Tee. If I could have Richard Tee in my band, then there would be no problems. But you can't have Richard Tee in your band, 'cause he's too busy. I decided I would do without keyboards. So what we have is an airy kind of band. And I've just added a second bass player. We have Frank Gravis playing and Jeff Berlin has the freedom to do whatever he wants. The combination is extraordinary.
JAA: This is something you've done before.
HM: But I've never done it with two basses.
JAA: Didn't you record "Comin' Home Baby" that way?
HM: Right. Ben Tucker and Ahmed Abdul-Malik. It was a little different. They were both playing acoustic basses, but it was the same kind of concept; you're right. But what they were doing was Ben Tucker was playing the basic vamp, or vice-versa, and one was just playing a fill-in vamp. Here, Jeff Berlin improvises backgrounds and figures as if he's another guitarist or a keyboard player. I told him it's probably the first time in history that a leader told a bassist, "Don't play basic. You're free to do whatever you want." Jeff has more technique than I've ever heard before. I've had Miroslav Vitous in my band. I've had Ron Carter in my band. But I must say Jeff Berlin has the most technique I've heard. I say he and Jaco Pastorius are the most creative soloists right now.