I’ve always had a little bit of a soft spot for the flute. My daughter played one during her school years, and I’ve also always enjoyed the mix of classics and lighter music that James Galway has performed so well — his collaborations with Mancini on movie themes and pop tunes are some of my favorites. But pop music can also become a tender trap for musicians, as it did for flutist Herbie Mann, who was a much-respected jazz artist in his early years and again late in his career, but spent a lot of years in the middle pursuing a pop audience.
Brooklyn-born Herbert Jay Solomon began appearing professionally in the post-war years while still a teenager, playing sax and clarinet in various groups entertaining at Catskills resorts. After some time off to fulfill his military obligation, he began to show up in early 1950s bebop groups as a flutist, by then known as Herbie Mann.
For most of that decade and into the next he continued to build a reputation as a solid jazz instrumentalist, working with many of the greats and either playing in or leading several different groups. He also found some success in the recording studio, reaching hit status with his “Comin’ Home Baby,” while beginning to stretch himself musically into other styles, including Afro and Brazilian jazz.
The 1970s would see Mann exploring everything from composing for films to working his way through a wide variety of musical styles, including pop tunes, rock, reggae, and even disco. But eventually he returned to what he did best, and during the last two decades of his life (he died in 2003) he embraced his roots in jazz.