When I was a teenager I was into all this crazy free jazz stuff (which I am still REALLY into, FYI) and someone like Herbie Mann seemed like a joke to me. His awful hairy-chested nudie album cover on Push Push was disgusting to me and when a girl I knew (who was into the Grateful Dead...another band I hated in those years) expressed her fondness for both Herbie's "physique" and his music I gave her the album to take it off my hands. (I had bought it in a collection of jazz & blues albums).
But the problem with being an opinionated asshole snob, such as I was back in those days, was that if it wasn't some smoking and screaming Coltrane-inspired free jazz made by unknown black artists then I didn't take it seriously. Yeah, that's right, I was racist against white jazz musicians. And the fact that Mann's albums had a lot of cover tunes did nothing for me back then...it wasn't REAL jazz. It was just some hokey novelty boogaloo shit that shouldn't be taken seriously. Yes, being a teenager with a large grasp of music of avant-garde, punk, free jazz or socialist lyric variety really set me back on shit that makes the world go 'round: music you can dance to, smoke to, fuck to, or chill out to. But being the radical anti-fun shitbag rebellious (against teenagers!) teenager that I was, I had no desire to dance. What a jerk!
But now that I am an adult in my 40s I can honestly say that I was pretty much a piece of shit in those days with a disdain for anything that didn't scare the crap out of people. I think the only reason I got away with playing Sun Ra non-stop for partiers in my apartment was because I was the first kid to have my own apartment and if these kids wanted to congregate and drink, smoke, take acid, etc, my pad was a safe place to do so. So naturally I had to aid their trips with the sounds of Albert Ayler, Japanese noise, grindcore, Borbetomagus and other possibly unpleasant (to them) stuff. (Hey, some of them ended up turned ON to this shit!).
Anyways...since Mann is the feature here I want to apologize to him for my honky-hating treatment towards him. As I got older and started to open my ears I could see that he has some excellent records. I mean really, had I known that he had Sonny Sharrock on some of those albums (check out the live set Hold On, I'm Coming for a taste of Sonny going off on a Mann record) I would've given it more of a shot. Hell, his bands included favorites of mine like Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Bernard Purdie, Roy Ayers, Patato Valdez, Willie Bobo, Chick Corea, Al Jackson Jr and even collaborated in later years with Stereolab.
In '69 he started the Embryo label and produced some sides for Brute Force (another Sharrock-related item), Atilla Zoller's Gyspy Cry, William S. Fischer's Circles and an album by the great Kaw reedsman Jim Pepper. He also put out music by the very cool electronic pop project Tonto's Exploding Head Band. Also as a producer he worked on Dave Pike's Doors of Perception and of course the ripping Black Woman by Sonny Sharrock, a classic featuring the orgasmic Lynda Sharrock and the amazing percussionist Milford Graves!
Mann's own records covered a lot of ground culturally. He toured Africa in the late '50s and went to Brazil in '61 to further his studies. Best known on flute (although he played sax on occasion as well), he explored so many different types of music, from bossa to Middle Eastern to Latin to reggae to disco and yes...he actually did and could play real jazz. But he did put out some smooth jazz BS and crap-disco but that'll happen when you have 250 albums to your name and an eye on bringing something to the pop market.
I definitely recommend checking out some of the '60s stuff on Atlantic with Sharrock and Ayers, you can find some of these records in thrift stores or the dollar bins. Mann had good and tasteful sidemen on his records and the best of the albums ranged from very hip fusions to groovy left-field cover versions of pop tunes. For starters check At the Village Gate (a live date from '61), Impressions of the Middle East ('67), the smash hit Memphis Underground and Stone Flute (both from '69) and the aforementioned Hold On, I'm Coming.
I apologize for sharing personal info about my past, and sort of where I come from into the music. But I'll be honest - I am a much better person now than I was then, mostly because my ears are open and I don't take life so seriously. I STILL know people who are too cool for something that is un-serious and un-avantgarde and criticize the hell out of everyone and everything. Just fucken lighten up, man! Listen to some Mann! The moral of the story is...keep your damn ears open!