Here’s an artist that I really can’t get enough of. In fact, like a Jimmy McGriff, I buy every record I see from him, especially the one that really did it for me, Memphis Underground. There is something about Herbie Mann, something about the groove he can get locked into no matter what style he plays that is so fascinating to me. That being said, here’s Herbie Mann doing a version of “Watermelon Man” from 1965.
Let’s face it, Herbert Jay Solomon changed the face and sound of the flute in the United States. Primarily seen as an orchestra side instrument, it wasn’t until Herbie Mann added some Latin sounds behind this amazing instrument that it started to take off. A 1961 trip down to Brazil would change Mann, his life, and consequently the entire history of the flute here in the States. The first American musician to go to Brazil to record Brazilian music with actual Brazilian musicians, Mann broke out as a superstar of Jazz from there on. It was his adaptation of the flute to different styles of music that really stood out. These styles include a trip to Muscle Shoals to record the legendary Memphis Underground record, where he could play the groove with Funk musicians, his Latin influenced records with key Latin players, adaptation of Blues numbers, a trip into Disco/Pop, (where he would see a shift in fan base from Jazz purists to Pop enthusiasts) and later on in life returning to his Eastern European roots to infuse his cultures’ music into the flute as well. In my humble opinion, you can not go wrong with a Herbie Mann record. There is something for everyone. Unfortunately, we lost Herbie Mann to prostate cancer in 2003. The man moved out of the spotlight, but still continued to make and play music up until his death. “Super-Mann” he was in deed, not just in the musical sense.
“ I realized that in order to play a specific music, you had to go where the sauce was. I’m not going to do an album where I want real authentic Brazilian rhythms and record it in Jamaica. If I go to Brazil to make a Brazilian record, if I use Latin players to make a Latin record, why don’t I go to the place where it’s natural for those players to play that groove? So I went to Memphis. I went to Muscle Shoals. ” – Herbie Mann
Mann’s version of “Watermelon Man” smokes. Like Mongo Santamaria’s, it’s injected with lots of Latin flavor. Featuring such side players as Willie Bobo, “Patato” Valdez, and Chick Corea among others, Mann’s flute takes the lead as the Latin beat chugs along. The original by Hancock (and the updated version), as well as Mongo’s version are all superb. However, it’s that damn flute that does it for me all together. If you have the LP, check out the Latin Jazz family tree as seen by Herbie Mann. Interesting stuff. This track reminds me of a hot, summer, day. What a coincidence, it’s in the upper 90’s here today, so I guess I will be blasting this track all day long.