For the past 40 years, flutist Herbie Mann has taken the instrument in several different directions, performing in a wide variety of musical styles including straight-ahead and soul and pop-jazz, as well as world music, and most recently Eastern European music. A cancer survivor, Mann's latest project is a crusade for prostate cancer awareness.
Brian Delp: Ten years ago you moved out West, to Sante Fe.
Herbie Mann: My wife and I just reached that point that the energy of a big city was not what we enjoyed anymore. We wanted to feel good. [We wanted to] get up at 5:OO in the morning and watch the sun come up and get into a hot tub and see that the sky really is blue. I love everything in the sunlight. At 7,000 feet everything is brighter and clearer. So that was the main reason. I was raised in Brooklyn, and I lived there for 59 years.
BD: Do you still have family there?
HM: My youngest son, who is now the drummer in my band, lives in Brooklyn. My oldest son is about to move out to California, and my daughters are both out of town.
BD: How has living out West affected your music?
HM: I prefer serenity. I've always said, "You don't have to live the blues to play the blues." It still amazes us when we drive around, and we look around and say, "We live in the West." When you live in the city, you think you're going to live there your whole life.
BD: Tell me about your 70th birthday celebration. How were the crowds at the Blue Note?
HM: Opening night was great. I invited a lot of my friends to come.
BD: Who played with you?
HM: My new band is Gil Goldstein on accordion and keyboards, Bruce Dunlap on guitar, Paul Solokow on bass, my son Geoff Mann on drums, and I just added a zimbolum player.
BD: What's that?
HM: It's an Eastern European keyboard that's played with mallets. The music we're playing now is based on my heritage, which is Russian, Romanian and Hungarian. We play Brazilian music, which I love, and we play this new music, which I call gypsy jazz, and we play Bill Evans. It's very interesting because we're developing a [sound] that doesn't exist yet.
BD: You've been well known for that for 40 years. After all, if there is a father of world music, Herbie Mann is definitely it.
HM: Well, really, I think Dizzy was there first. Dizzy went to Cuba in the mid-'40s. People say, "Why are you doing all this music?" When I started playing the flute, there was no straight-ahead tradition on jazz flute, other than maybe Waymon Carver with the Chic Webb band. And then it dawned on me that even though there was no tradition for straight-ahead jazz on flute, Latin music, African music, Brazilian music, Indian music, all had the flute as a soloist. That's why I started looking into all those sounds.
BD: And traveled the world to collect knowledge about all of them as well.
HM: If you want to play somebody's music, you'd better go into his house.
BD: You mentioned that you still play Bill Evans. I just played this recording of "Periscope" that you did five years ago at your 65th-birthday celebration at the Blue Note. I also had to play Sarah Vaughan's "He's My Guy." I know we were going to stay away from the older recordings, but that one...
HM: [What an] experience, doing the record. First of all, Sarah did all the head arrangements at the studio on the spot. As she sat down at the piano like in "Lullaby in Birdland" and she said, "Da, da, da, da, daokay, flute, trumpet, saxophone." Yeah, she was an incredible musician.
BD: Indeed, she was, and she really knew what the first instrument was all about. This was a session with Clifford Brown. You don't hear him much on this particular cut, but Clifford Brown was...
HM: Clifford was the highlight of the session, as far as I'm concerned.
BD: You told me earlier that any time you got on the bandstand with Clifford or in the studio with him, everybody just stood back.
HM: It was like playing a basketball game against Michael Jordan. You'd watch him until he'd go past you.
BD: You've dealt with something very serious these last three years.