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Jazz in the Aquarian Age

Herbie Mann: An Amalgamation of Everything

By Published: May 22, 2012
Then Brazilian music became very fashionable, and it became another opportunity for an improvising musician to find a vehicle to help broaden his appeal. A lot of jazz musicians started playing the bossa nova because all the tunes Jobim originally wrote were influenced by Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
and Chet Baker
Chet Baker
Chet Baker
1929 - 1988
trumpet
and West Coast kind of jazz to begin with, so it was close to a jazz musician's concept of music.

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 '62—15 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
Richard Tee
Richard Tee
1943 - 1993
keyboard
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 is—and I've had beautiful players. Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
played with me, Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
...

JAA: You also played with Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
.

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
Jeff Berlin
Jeff Berlin
b.1953
bass
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
Ben Tucker
Ben Tucker
b.1930
bass, acoustic
and Ahmed Abdul-Malik
Ahmed Abdul-Malik
Ahmed Abdul-Malik
b.1927
bass
. 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
Miroslav Vitous
Miroslav Vitous
b.1947
bass
in my band. I've had Ron Carter
Ron Carter
Ron Carter
b.1937
bass
in my band. But I must say Jeff Berlin has the most technique I've heard. I say he and Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
are the most creative soloists right now.


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