copyright © 2003 Natasha Nargis
The special guest of honor at the Telluride Jazz Celebration in 2000 was flutist and Santa Fe resident Herbie Mann. He played August 5 with two different bands, his own Sonatera which featured Eastern European music, and guitarist Romero Lumbabo's Brazilian band.
NN: What was your reaction to being honored for lifetime achievement at Telluride Jazz this summer?
HM: It's about time. That's what I said. I'm not humble, and I think I've been a very important part of the history of jazz, especially as far as the flute and spreading music from other cultures. I'm 70 years old, so I start getting awards and stuff like that.
NN: Tell me about your connection with Eastern European music.
HM: Well, I played and loved Cuban music, Brazilian music and R&B, but I'm neither black, Cuban nor Brazilian, and even though I love it, I thought I could look into my roots which are Russian, Romanian and Hungarian. I had been writing this music for so many years and putting it away because didn't think it had a place. But now I don't care whether it has a place or not. So I started writing original music and we recorded. I went to Hungary for two weeks at the end of April.
NN: How did the trip go in terms of your music?
HM: I wanted to get a hit of the real stuff before recording. My wife and I went there. We met musicians; I played with musicians. I recorded with a Hungarian band. There are many bands and great players. Three bands that I met are actually approaching this concept of folk music, combining it with jazz and original music based on Eastern European music. I recorded with one band, and one of the tunes is going to be on our new album. After so many years under communism, anything American was thought of as freedom. They used to listen to it secretly over Voice of America. They still play like Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, but they're beginning to not play American standards, and they're playing their own music, and it's very interesting.
NN: How does it work with jazz?
HM: Well, jazz is not 4-4 time. Jazz is improvising, so they improvise on their rhythms and on their harmonies; they just improvise.
NN: Will you be playing some of those pieces at Telluride?
HM: Yes, I will.
NN: When will the new CD be out?
HM: I'm mastering it the first week of August, and it should be out some time in October, but it won't be in the stores, I'm bypassing retail. It will only be sold where I play and through the Internet.
NN:You've played with many great Latin musicians -- Willie Bobo and Carlos "Potato" Valdez, to name a couple.
HM: Yes, that was a long time ago.
NN: Didn't you start out in the bebop genre?
HM: Actually, I was a bebop tenor player.
NN: How did you move from sax to flute?
HM: In 1951 somebody offered me a job if I would play jazz on flute, so I did.
NN: Did you fall in love with the flute?
HM: Well, it took a while, because there were no role models. So basically, even though I wanted to be a jazz tenor player, there were lots of jazz tenor players. The flute opened up a lot of doors for me and has become my favorite instrument.
NN: How did audiences react, since the flute was not an instrument associated with jazz at the time?
HM: Well, obviously people thought it was a little bizarre, because there was no history. My feeling is that no instrument belongs to any genre. Every instrument is just in a case, and then when the person takes the instrument out, that instrument becomes a jazz instrument or a Gypsy instrument.
NN: How do you move from Eastern European music to Brazilian music?
HM: It's not a problem. I like all kinds of music and love playing in different genres. It's great to have the opportunity to play in two different genres at the same festival. I'd like to have a Cuban band and an African band also.
NN: Well, maybe next year.
HM: They're not going to book me next year and let me play with four bands.
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