|Herbie Mann established himself as jazz's most popular flutist for over a decade, and in so doing also solidified the flute's rightful place in jazz. In 1962, his live album Herbie Mann at the Village Gate was his first major hit, selling over half a million copies. The immense popularity of At the Village Gate made Mann a true superstar.
This live disc was recorded before jazz clubs were like museums, before musicians were like curators. People are sitting comfortably being all beatnik and cool about everything. But when Herbie Mann walks in, sexy hairy sweaty chest and all, they go ballistic! You hear people talking, responding, and humming in the background – their presence pulls you into the room. This "noise" adds an extra dimension of realness, of being front-row in the swing, which is jazz at its best.
The first track on the LP, "Comin' Home Baby", placed in the Top 30 on the pop charts and became Mann's first big hit. Composer Ben Tucker plays second bass on that cut, and Mann's other sidemen include vibraphonist Hagood Hardy, bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik, drummer Rudy Collins, and Chief Bey and Ray Mantilla on percussion. From the smoke-filled room, a woman with a whisky voice testifies from the audience: “Oh yeah, play it!”
Next are two great Gershwin songs. Mann's version of “Summertime” deserves a place in any collection. The song’s bittersweet essence is distilled and transported to Rio. The drums and percussion come up a samba beat. Fingers snap in time, and it’s all Bossa Nova.
Last is the long “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” clocking in at almost 20-minutes. Mann’s smart solo on this track wails - the crowd goes wild as his flute rises up from the rhythm section, settles back in, and rises up again, over and over.
Here it all is: a base of bebop with the Latin beat, but also Middle Eastern and African influences. There’s funk on this album, there’s cool, and Boss Nova, and samba, and bebop. At this rare moment in Mann’s career, it all held together, and it just swings.