Voice of the Alchemist 1971

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JazzTimes June 1999

Chuck Mangione!
by Aivess Malejs

Above are the pictures from the article.  Click on them to enlarge.

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 genius.

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 the audience."

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 go-ahead."

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 by Chuck.

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 their eyes."

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.

Some additional notes about this article:

Chuck's fathers name was Frank, his nickname was Miles.

Sam Jones not Paul Chambers played bass on the Jazzland album.

Chick Corea was another pianist with the Blakey band when Chuck was on it.

That photo of Harry Schatz, now deceased represented some of the orchestra members attitude at the time and videoing of Friends and Love, 1970. He left the stage during the encore because it didn't call for his playing.

The attitude was one of excitement and enjoyment from the orchestra when Friends And Love was performed again in May of 2007.

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