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The Best Of Herbie Mann




Original 1970 album liner notes




The Herbie Mann story, which for all practical purposes began in June, 1959 when he organized an Afro Jazz Sextet to open at a New York club, is without precedent or parallel in contemporary music.


To trace the sequence of events you would have to move along several non-parallel lines.  At one level would be Mann’s international travels, the effect of which proved pivotal in determining his esthetic orientation.  On another plateau you would follow the graph of his changes in style and musical direction.  For Mann the cliché “never a dull moment” means never a moment too long dwelling on the same musical concept, never wearing out one’s welcome with a given idiom or a particular instrumental set-up.


On still a third chart you would observe a steadily climbing line showing the evolution of Mann from saxophonist to flutist to bandleader to sponsor of other musicians, producer of record albums, executive in a series of music-related business ventures, all of them artistically as well as economically rewarding, that have been an indirect outcome of his phenomenal success as an Atlantic recording artist.


Some musicians, when they latch on to a successful formula, decide to swim with it forever, presumably for fear that they may sink without it, or in some cases simply because it seems to be the only natural expression of the leader’s and sidemen’s personality.  Others feel that once a name has been established, the public will show an open-minded interest in anything new that is produced under the same imprimatur.  Such has been the case with the Beatles; so it was with Herbie Mann.  To have stayed in the same bag continuously, while the world around him was in a state of constant flux, would have seemed to him not merely imprudent, but downright unethical.


Mann’s attitudes toward the changing scene was succinctly stated in a 1968 Down Beat interview with Ira Gitler.


“When a musician starts playing, he more or less knows what he wants to do…it depends on what’s surrounding him.  If he’s in New York, and he hears Latin music, and starts working with Machito, then he’s going to feel the Latin thing, and he’s going to improvise in that framework.


“When I was in high school, there was no such thing as a jazz job.  You’d play bar mitzvahs and weddings, and sneak in a couple of choruses of Bernie’s Tune if nobody was listening.  So now, for the jazz players, there are only a couple of dance bands; primarily, the rock groups give the young guys, the young white musicians, the same chance to swing as the rhythm-and-blues band gave the black musicians.”


Projecting into the 1970s, Mann hazarded a guess that a new generation of rock musicians would emerge inspired by the jazz improvisational spirit.  “Based on their life,” he added.  “It constantly changes… It’s a very difficult thing not to shut yourself off and to leave yourself completely open to what other people are doing.”


As this album eloquently attests, this is precisely what Herbie Mann has been doing for the past decade; listening to others, absorbing, and developing his own concepts out of the limitless variety of idioms and rhythms to which his ears have been exposed.


The original Afro-Cuban group undertook an extensive tour of 15 African countries, under State Department auspices, in 1960.  The following year Mann played in Brazil, where he was fascinated by the burgeoning bossa nova movement.  The sounds of Rio have since been reflected in his repertoire on many occasions.  But unlike so many contemporaries who jumped on a bandwagon only to find themselves stranded when it broke down on them, Herbie continued to enlarge his musical scope.


By the time he went into Art d’Lugoff’s Village Gate in 1962 for an engagement that is unlikely to be forgotten by anyone involved, Herbie was experimenting with so many new ideas that a set by his group was comparable with a session at the United Nations.  His vibraphonist, Hagood Hardy, had been raised in Canada.  Ahmad Abdul-Malik, a bearded sheik-like man with a supple command of the bass, was of Sudanese descent.  Percussionist Ray Mantilla claimed Puerto Rican and Peruvian parentage.  Dakar, West Africa, furnished the group with Chief Bey, featured on African drums.  The regular drummer was an Afro-American from the Bronx, Rudy Collins.


Added for one track only was bassist Ben Tucker, who sat in on the band’s performance of his own composition, Comin’ Home Baby.  From the opening G Minor vamp through the solos by Herbie, Hagood and Ben, this is a definitive mood-setter.  The theme is a simple minor blues, but Mann’s long and evocative improvisation is a brilliant illustration of the virtues that have established him as America’s most popular flutist.


Comin’ Home Baby became one for the history books.  Lyrics were added (remember Mel Torme’s version?).  Ben Tucker ultimately had it so good as a composer and music publisher that he gave up bass playing except for occasional kicks.  The phenomenal success of the “Herbie Mann at the Village Gate” album transformed Mann from moderate success into international sensation.


Seven years separate the first Comin’ Home Baby from Memphis Underground, but one aspect of Mann’s career had remained unaltered: in 1969 he was still producing hits, and using musically valid ploys in the process.  As these words go to press, “Memphis Underground” is the No. 1 best selling jazz album in the United States.


For this date, Herbie used a jazzman who is by now well known for his association with him, Roy Ayers on vibes.  He added Larry Coryell, best known for his rock-influenced contribution to the Gary Burton Quartet, then proceeded to furnish an underlay of five musicians who lent a “Memphis Sound” to the rhythm section.  How to define a Memphis Sound?  Go try defining collard greens, or chili con carne.  You just know it when it hits the senses, and on this occasion it was superbly transmitted and perfectly recorded – firm and clear, pulsating without ever degenerating into that heavy, over-strong sound that is sometimes confused with the Memphis beat.


The first two tracks on Side Two seem superficially to have little in common beyond the presence of Mann.  Philly Dog presents him in a big-rocking R&B setting; A Man and a Woman was and is the definitive jequibau (5/4 bossa nova) performed as a vocal-instrumental duet with Tamiko Jones, a young singer who had been discovered by Skitch Henderson, then bandleader on the Tonight show.  The numbers do have an element that links them, however; both were arranged by Jimmy Wisner, a talented and flexible writer whom I recall as having been associated with Charlie Ventura in Philadelphia quite a few years ago.  His voicing of the riffs in Philly Dog provides Herbie with a thick, rich carpet of chords on which the flute bounces along in airy, effervescent contrast.  A Man and a Woman, on the other hand, captures the gentle flavor of the new Rio sound in this 1967 recording.  Miss Jones and Mr. Mann compliment each other admirably in this unconventional addition to the global family of Mann.


This Little Girl of Mine shifts the space platform into reverse, taking us back to 1961.  The Ray Charles tune (recorded by Ray, in its archetypical blues-gospel-vocal form, in 1955) has an attractively different form: eight bars with rhythm, followed by eight bars of breaks and four bars out.  The Mann treatment involves strong Latin overtones and makes discreet use of a trio of violins.


A sense of symmetry is achieved by this compendium through the inclusion of another Comin’ Home Baby, this time as the goin’-out-baby track.  The night of July 3, 1965 deserves some special commemoration in the history of the Newport Jazz Festival.  Having been present, I can attest to the authenticity of the album title (“Standing Ovation at Newport”) from which this performance was extracted.


At that juncture Herbie was going through another experimental period, using two trombones along with vibes and rhythm.  Ben Tucker again was added to the group especially for the revival of his hit.  Herbie’s breaks, backed by Ben’s double stops, worked the crowd into a near-frenzy of excitement.  Dave Pike’s solo builds sensitively, particularly after the addition of the trombones’ riffs.


When it became clear that the audience would not tolerate an end to the set, George Wein urged Herbie and his men to go right back into the vamp, followed by two or three more minutes of Baby.  They maintained the same tension, the same unified spontaneity that had created in the audience a furor the like of which had seldom if ever been observed at Newport.


Whether he goes underground in Memphis or overboard at Newport, whether his inspiration comes from Rio or Havana or Morocco or the Bronx, Herbie Mann’s music throughout the whirlwind decade just ended has managed to retain, without surcease, a hold on his listeners that transcends any considerations of idiom or format.  As this extraordinary collection displays, every outfit he heads up – combo or big band, jazz or R&B or rock, ad libbed or orchestrated – reveals one aspect or another of this protean artist, who has carved so firm a niche for himself in music that he needs no category.  Let’s just settle for a very appropriate play on words and call it the music of modern Mann.



Side One



(By Ben Tucker & Bob Dorough)

Cotillion, BMI


Herbie Mann, flute

Hagood Hardy, vibraharp

Ben Tucker & Ahmad Abdul-Malik, basses

Ray Mantilla, conga drum & percussion

Chief Bey, African drum & percussion

Rudy Collins, drums


Recorded on November 17, 1961, at the Village Gate, New York City

Recording engineers: Tom Dowd & Phil Iehle




(By Herbie Mann)

Herbie Mann, ASCAP


Herbie Mann, flute

Roy Ayers, vibes

Larry Coryell & Reggie Young, guitars

Bobby Emmons, organ

Bobby Wood, electric piano

Mike Leech, Fender bass

Gene Christman, drums


Recorded on August 21, 1968




Side Two


1. PHILLY DOG  2:26

(By Rufus Thomas)

East/Memphis, BMI


Herbie Mann, flute

Joe Newman & Marky Markowitz, trumpets

Quentin Jackson, bass & tenor trombones

King Curtis, tenor sax

Pepper Adams, baritone sax

Charlie Macey & Al Gorgoni, guitars

Joe Macko, Fender bass

Warren Smith, percussion

Bernard Purdie, drums

Arranged & Conducted by Jimmy Wisner


Recorded on May 26, 1966

Recording engineer: Tom Dowd



2. A MAN AND A WOMAN  2:23

 (By Francis Lai, Pierre Barouh & Jerry Keller)

Northern, ASCAP


Herbie Mann & Tamiko Jones


Arranged by Jimmy Wisner


Recorded on September 27, 1966

Recording engineer: Tom Dowd




(By Ray Charles)

Progressive, BMI


Herbie Mann, flute

Daniel Gonzalez, Joe Silva & Jose Andreu, violins

Charlie Palmieri, piano

Juan Garcia & Nabil Totah, bass

Rudy Collins, drums

Willie Rodriguez, Ray Mantilla & Ray Barretto, percussion

Arranged by Herbie Mann


Recorded on April 24, 1961

Recording engineer: Phil Ramone



4. COMIN’ HOME BABY  10:34

(By Ben Tucker & Bob Dorough)

Cotillion, BMI


Herbie Mann, flute

Dave Pike, vibes

John Hitchcock & Mark Weinstein, trombones

Chick Corea, piano

Ben Tucker, bass

Bruno Carr, drums

Carlos “Patato” Valdes, conga drums


Recorded on July 3, 1965, at the Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, Rhode Island

Recording engineers: Buddy Graham & Frank Laico




Cover design: Loring Eutemey


Cover photo: Joel Brodsky


Member RIAA

This is a stereo recording.  For best results observe the R.I.A.A. high frequency roll-off characteristic with a 500 cycle crossover.



© 1970 Atlantic Recording Corporation

Atlantic Recording Corporation, 1841 Broadway, New York, New York 10023

Printed in U.S.A.



SD 1544

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