The world according to flutist and composer Herbie Mann was a utopian musical paradise where jazz is made up of of Afro-Cuban, Middle-Eastern, R&B, and nearly every other kind of music. In the 1960s, he discovered Brazil's bossa-nova; in the 1970s, he even found disco rhythms in jazz.
Unlike most of his contemporaries in jazz, when Mann began playing flute in 1940s he had no forefathers to learn from, no pioneers of jazz flute to idolize. He was forced to look elsewhere—both inside and outside of jazz—to develop his approach to jazz and the flute. Among numerous musical influences, Mann was particularly drawn to rhythms and melodies from South America and the Caribbean.
Herbie Mann was born Herbert Jay Solomon in Brooklyn, New York, on April 16, 1930. Early in his childhood, Mann was so enthralled with rhythm that he wanted to be a drummer. Instead, a cousin of his mother convinced him to play the clarinet.
In 1948, Mann began serving four years in the army and while stationed in Trieste, Italy, he began playing saxophone in the military band. After his discharge from the service, he saw a jazz scene overflowing with sax players and he fell back on his second instrument, the flute. When the Dutch accordionist, Mat Matthews, told him he was looking for a jazz flute player for the first album by the then unknown Carmen McRae, Herbie immediately jumped at the opportunity and spent days "woodshedding" before going into the studio. With this opportunity he was able to distinguish himself from other players as a jazz flutist, of which there were few.
In 1954, Mann released his first album for Bethlehem Records, “Herbie Mann Plays.” Although at that time he was jamming with bebop innovators like bassist Milt Hinton, drummers Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke, and pianist Tommy Flanagan, Mann was never truly comfortable playing straight-ahead bebop. As he began to bring non-jazz elements into his sound, Mann's flute playing began to sound tougher and more aggressive.
Three years later, Mann made the first of three albums for Verve Records, titled “The Magic Flute of Herbie Mann.” The album featured, "The Evolution of Mann" which became an instant hit on the radio thanks to New York disc jockey, "Symphony Sid" Torin. Mann then formed an Afro-Cuban band with percussionists like Rudy Collins, Ray Mantilla, and Carlos "Patato" Valdez, all from Cuba's legendary Machito Orchestra. Because Mann was able to pay the percussionists more money than what they were making with the other Latin orchestras, a rift was created between Mann and many of the other Latin bandleaders. Eventually, Mann's interest in Afro-Cuban jazz led him to the music's source—Africa. In 1959, the U.S. State Department funded a trip for Mann to visit Africa, after they heard his version of "African Suite."