The last time I talked with Herbie Mann, on a visit here in 1980, he was generally unhappy about the state of the music business.
Those were the days when disco appeared to be taking over (remember disco?) and all too many seasoned jazz artists were being forced, in the words of one writer, "to walk the fusion plank."Today things have changed, not least for Mann. "I was just projecting my own unhappiness," the jazz flutist says, "because I didn't have a record contract at the time." (His longtime recording label, Atlantic, had just dumped him.) "Since then I realize there is life after a record contract and I formed my own company, Herbie Mann Music, even though somebody else distributes the records." (Sadly, his last distributor, Moss Music Group, has itself just gone through the bankruptcy mill.)
"Another reason was I didn't have a band I was happy with and I was in the process of figuring out a way to start all over. In 1979 I was 49 years old and I wanted to see if, with my name being recognizable, I would do some music that was not my norm how long it would take me to get popular again."
The result is Jasil Brazz, the six-man group he will be bringing with him to Snowbird Saturday for the Utah Jazz Festival. Presented by KUER-FM, the evening will get under way at 5 p.m. in the music pavilion with the local band Rags to Riches, followed by Marian McPartland, Mann and the superhot Windham Hill group Montreux. Tickets, available at Smith'sTix, Smokey's Records and the Cosmic Aeroplane, are $18 in advance or $20 the day of the show.
(Earlier, from 2 to 4:30 p.m., the Tom Kehoe Group will perform free at Snowbird's Cliff Lodge.)
This group Mann says he loves. "And when we get out there I'll have a new drummer, Ricky Sebastian. That doesn't mean I hated the last one, but I wanted to evolve the music a little more than my Brazilian drummer could do. Now we're combining Brazilian music with New Orleans second-line and a little funk. That disappeared from my Brazilian band, but I wanna bring it back."
As for fusion, Mann says, "I never really got into it; I found it a little bit too clean for my taste. I'm mainly a melody person, and I just didn't hear that many strong melodies in that genre. There's still a lot of it, but mainly so-called new-age music has taken over the wave."
And what does he think of that development?
"It's easy listening and pleasant - that's about the nicest I can say. Some is better than other, but I think that music is not meant to be really emotional because people out there don't want to get too involved. Kind of like, `I've run out of cocaine and I'm gonna crash music.' "
This won't be Mann's first time at Snowbird - about 10 years ago he taped a TV special there - or his first time on the same bill with McPartland. ("I haven't been in Montreux," he says when asked about the Windham Hill group.) So is there any chance of them combining for an impromptu jam anytime during the evening?
"In my experience jam sessions are great for writers but not so great for musicians," he says. "You're not at your best because you're playing at the lowest common denominator of the rhythm section - whatever tunes the piano player knows. Besides, if you've got something of your own you should try to develop it and try to create music within your own family. To bring in a stranger just adds other elements."
Suggesting that even Jasil Brazz is still part of the Family of Mann?