It sounds like something straight out of
Ripley's Believe it or Not. It is a fact, however, and a
fact that Chuck Mangione himself finds laughably outrageous.
A Doris Day movie changed his life! Well, not really a
Doris Day movie, but she was in it along with Lauren Bacall,
Hoagy Charmichael, and Kirk Douglas. And it was Kirk's
portrayal of Rick Martin, a struggling and troubled young
trumpeter, that made Chuck decide to take up studying the
trumpet. Chuck was ten at the time and he had just scored
impressively on a musical aptitude test in school. Seeing
"Young Man With A Horn," in which Harry James provided the
soundtrack dubbing, did the trick. He was sold on a horn.
It's been a long stretch since those early days
in the fifties and Chuck Mangione can find a lot of other people
to thank for the way his musical career has developed, most of
all his father, Miles, and brother, Gap (Gaspare). In all
actuality it is inconceivable to think that Chuck could have
turned to another field. Six months after he started to
master the musical intricacies of the trumpet, his older brother
Gap would make Chuck jam with him. With Gap pounding a hot
piano, he was ordered to blow whatever he felt like coaxing
through the brass. Jazz was the password in the Mangione
household. Gap had already established himself with his
own twelve-piece big band sound. Jukeboxes blared Kenton
and Count Basey, Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan. Any kid
with talent and a serious ear for music was jazz-bound. An
understanding and jazz-loving father vastly enhanced Chuck's
early musical education. By high school age, Miles would take
Chuck on the rounds through Rochester's jazz clubs, which in
those days reverberated to the sounds of such masters as Sonny
Rollins, Clifford Brown or Dizzy Gillespie. He remembers
affectionately how embarrassed he would be when his dad would
saunter up to someone like Gillespie and introduce himself: "Hi,
my name's Mangione. My boy Chuck over there plays the trumpet."
But he did get his occasional gigs and the elder Mangione did
manage to open his household to all the stars. "Those were
great, great times'," remembers Chuck, "Can you imagine a lineup
like Jimmy Cobb, Junior Cook, Junior Mance, Sam Jones all
playing in your living room? It was something to behold!"
Chuck Mangione, the young man who sat in wonderment in the midst
of these great stars jamming in his father's living room, is now
on the threshold of his own greatness. The Mercury recording of
his Friends & Love concert with the Rochester
Philharmonic in the May of 1970 has found a belatedly
overwhelming acceptance and is currently sweeping the country. A
single release from this album, with "Hill Where the Lord Hides"
and "Friends & Love" is topping the 45 charts. The concert
itself was taped in color and shown on Educational television
channels. The full impact of Mangione's achievements has not yet
penetrated the unique nooks and crannies in which music critics,
experts and just plain old music lovers seem to hide. Once it
does, Chuck Mangione will be the hottest name in the business.
A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, where
he now teaches improvisation, Chuck has taken the lessons of the
past and molded them into a dynamic talent and style. His
trademark has become a flugelhorn, his talents have become
endless. Composer, arranger, lyricist, orchestrator, conductor
and musician are his impressive credentials. Three concerts,
Kaleidoscope, Together, and Friends & Love,
are the fruits of his dedication and labors. Their success and
acceptance - a richly deserved salute to a newly discovered
Back in the days of the living-room jam sessions, Dizzy
Gillespie presented young Chuck with an "up-do" horn. Through
his friendship with Gillespie and other greats, he had the
opportunity to cut a series of three records on the Riverside
label in the early sixties, while teamed with his brother Gap as
Co-leaders of a group called the Jazz Brothers. After Gap's
departure for Syracuse, to further his own musical career, Chuck
received an invitation from Jazzland records to cut a disc. He
chose to record with, what probably were the best men in their
field at the time, Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass),
Jimmy Cobb (drums) and Joe Romano (tenor sax).
He was in New York City at the time, trying to prove to himself
that it wasn't the Mangione family magic that made him an
accepted jazz man. He wanted to establish his own identity. He
jobbed with Kay Winding and Maynard Ferguson, among others. One
day he got a call from another old friend from his younger days
in Rochester - Art Blakey. Art invited Chuck to cut Buttercorn
Lady on the Limelight label with him. "That was a privilege
supreme." recalls Chuck, "In fact it must have been the greatest
experience in my life. After all, there is only one Art Blakey."
Before returning to Eastman to continue his schooling, Chuck had
traveled all across the country playing with Keith Jarrett,
Reggie Johnson and Frank Mitchell. From New York to Chicago, to
California, those were the days of dedicated jazz. "Back in
those days, I played to groove myself. I didn't really care
whether the audience understood what I was playing or not," says
Chuck continuing enthusiastically, "But, it's all different now!
I've changed. I discovered that there are two ways to groove. An
artist can get a groove off music, but he also can get a groove
off people who are grooving his music! That's what Friends &
Love was all about. That's what Together and
Kaleidoscope were all about. They were musical entities for
people and about people. We were getting a solid feedback from
Part of Chuck's musical re-birth was partial straying from
classical jazz. Several years ago he took the initiative to go
to Nashville. "I didn't know the first thing about that kind of
music, so I went down to study it. In Nashville I heard some of
the hottest music around, as well as some of the best musicians
in the country." Chuck recalls that it was his exposure to the
Country sound that made him aware of the absurdity of labels in
music. "When music is honest and full of love, labels aren't
important and people will listen with an open mind."
He became obsessed with writing music for a philharmonic
orchestra, to complement the basic jazz quartet. He pieced
together the Kaleidoscope concert and had hopes of
performing it with a Community Chest supported orchestra in
Rochester, as a benefit concert. He then discovered that fund
raising was taboo for such an orchestra. Having labored with the
compositions, arrangements and orchestration, he wasn't about to
toss it to the winds. Chuck financed the concert with his own
funds, hiring enough musicians to create his own philharmonic
orchestra. The concert drew two thousand customers. "To put it
succinctly, it was a musical success - and a financial
disaster." Chuck smiles, "It was there and then, that I decided
to keep away from the business end of concerts."
Not long thereafter, he received a call from the Rochester
Philharmonic to guest conduct the orchestra. "As soon as I heard
that, I knew what I wanted to do. So, when I went to talk to the
Philharmonic people, I laid it all on the line. I told them
exactly everything I needed to do the concert. They gave me the
Within days after the discussions with the Philharmonic, Chuck
had called upon his two friends Don Potter and Bat McGrath. He
needed them as an integral part of his grand plan. He had met
them some time ago at their Coffee-house in Rochester, having
gone there to relax after finishing his own gig at another club.
He had been overwhelmed by their talent. A close friendship had
developed, after an initial mutual disbelief that they dug each
other's music. Now he knew that they were the ones he wanted to
work with to create Friends & Love. They had already
collaborated with him in Kaleidoscope, for which Bat had
done new lyrics for Chuck's strangely haunting and melodic
"She's Gone." Don had sung it. "I don't think that many people
can sing that song. But, I knew Don could sing it, the first
night I heard him at the Coffee-house."
The six months that followed were pure hell. With Chuck's friend
Fred Lewis, a copyist from New York, they often worked twenty
hours a day putting Friends & Love together. "My wife
Judy had to take the kids and disappear for a while. She goes to
my mother's or to her mother's in Buffalo. Sometimes it seems
she's trying to get away from the madhouse, but she's actually
doing it for my benefit. It's rough, putting a concert together.
It's hectic. I panic. I cry. I die a few times. Make a new ulcer
or two ... "
By rehearsal time they had it all together. A lot of new music
and some previously used pieces all blended into a concert.
"She's Gone" was in again as part of the twenty-five minute
musical collage called Friends & Love. "The Feel of a
Vision," which Chuck wrote some years ago for Lew Soloff (Blood,
Sweat and Tears) to perform at his Eastman graduation concert,
was in, with Marvin Stamm doing the trumpet solo. Stanley
Watson, classical guitarist - was slated to do the "Songs from
the Valley of the Nightingale.'" Gerry Niewood was scheduled to
be the sax soloist for Chuck's powerful "Hill Where the Lord
Hides." And brother Gap on the electric piano was supposed
to solo through "And In The Beginning," a piece dedicated to him
The first rehearsal was a complete disaster. "Everything went
wrong!" remember's Chuck, with still detectable chagrin, "Bat
and Don showed up a half an hour late. Gap's electric piano
arrived completely ruined. Our bass player, Tony Levin, came up
from New York with poison-ivied hands. The P.A. wasn't
operational. The set was backward. I just couldn't believe it!
If it had been up to me, after that first rehearsal, I would
have given all the ticket-holders their money back and told them
to stay home."
Two more, somewhat more successful, rehearsals
followed. The concert was a smash! Chuck recalls with some
amazement, "Everything just came together during the concert.
All the pieces fit. I stood there and felt disembodied ... as if
I was watching myself from some distance going through the
motions but not really being aware of doing it."
The color crew were silently recording musical history for the
National Educational Television audience. As it turned out, they
almost did it too silently. The audio portion of their tapes had
not recorded properly and the Mangione concert was in peril of
winding up in the scrap pile. Only extended efforts to
synchronize the video with tapes recorded by the Mercury record
people saved the program. "If you watch closely, you can still
detect parts that are out of sync." says Chuck, "But,
considering everything the camera crew did a fine job. You know,
they never even rehearsed the taping! The camera crew just
showed up on the night of the concert. Besides that was the
first time they used color cameras. It turned out fine, though.
I can't complain."
The set for Friends & Love, as for Chuck's other
concerts, was designed by Robert Smith. Chuck doesn't think the
set an absolute necessity, but thinks it is an added bonus, a
visual treat for those who are so oriented. Friends & Love
combined music with film segments by Kodak cinematographer Dick
Young. The genesis of this idea was simple. Chuck had written
some background music for films that Dick had made for the
National Parks Service. The idea was to show the films while the
music was playing. Later they decided to extend the film
backdrop for the concert and Dick shot a segment on Bat and
Don's farm in Bristol. "It is a nice rounding out of the whole.
A multiple attack on the senses." explains Chuck, but adds "Not
that the music suffers without the visual stimuli. The album
comes across without it, doesn't it? Besides, if anyone is
really offended by the set and the films, they can always close
Some months ago, Chuck performed for the World Council of
Presbyterian Churches in Rochester. The program was Friends &
Love. The liner notes by one of the ministers gave religious
interpretations to such numbers as "Hill Where the Lord Hides"
and "And in the Beginning." In actuality, Mangione's music is
not religious. The titles refer to other meaningful memories in
his life. The hill where Bat and Don have their farm in Bristol
is the "Hill Where the Lord Hides." "And in the Beginning"
refers to the beginning of Chuck's musical career and the
important person there - his brother Gap.
Even with the rapidly approaching national recognition of his
talents and contributions, Chuck Mangione expounds an unusual
philosophy of humility. "I believe in the universality of music.
That's what I have striven to achieve through my work. But, it
is hard for me to comprehend that I have achieved some of it. I
am amazed that I am involved with something with such an
universal appeal." By admission he is his own hardest critic. He
takes countless hours to perfect something before he will let
others listen to it. "When I feel that I can live with it, at
least I feel it won't offend anyone. If someone actually likes
it, I'm flattered. But, the main criterion for me is to feel
that it is an honest piece of music." The financial windfall
which will come with his growing fame gives Chuck an unusual
pleasure. "It's sort of the frosting on the cake. It will give
me the freedom to play my music for more people."
Part of this "playing for people" encompasses young audiences.
Chuck and his quartet Gerry Niewood (soprano, tenor and alto
sax, flute and alto flute), Ron Davis (drums), Alan Murphy
(bass), enjoy the college and High School circuit tremendously.
and find their experience particularly rewarding.
The obsession Chuck has about getting rid of labels in music, or
for that matter labels for anything else in life, seems to be
the cornerstone of his philosophy. He cannot get over the
exhilarating experiences of his "mixed" assemblages of musicians
playing together, relating, enjoying, creating! Says Chuck:
"There's nothing wrong with these people enjoying each other's
music. There IS, however, something definitely RIGHT with it."
Ed. Note: We wish to thank Mr. Gus Russo for his assistance in
interviewing Chuck Mangione.