Writer, band leader, and horn player Chuck Man gione emerged into the music scene in the early 1960s to quickly mark himself as an anomaly among most jazz performers. His unshakably positive persona stood in contrast to the often tragic stereotype of many jazz legends, but perhaps even more importantly, Mangione found a place in the hearts of mainstream listeners fact that caused some cynical critics to write Mangione off as a commercial panderer. While it is true that aside from popularizing the flugelhorn, Mangione broke few barriers in his style, his devotion to making emotionally outreaching music consistently resulted in albums which were lauded both by the public and critics until the end of the 1970s. "Chuck Mangione's band hasn't changed that much from the days he was playing small jazz clubs instead of concert halls," critic Herb Nolan wrote in Down Beat upon seeing Mangione live in 1978. "It's simply Chuck Mangione, a musician who came up playing with band like Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, being Chuck Mangione, a performer who probably brings more jazz to more people than any other."
Born in upstate New York in the city of Rochester, on November 29, 1940, Mangione was raised by very supportive parents, although they had little interest in music themselves. Willing to accomodate whatever interests their son might develop, Mangione's mother and father enrolled the boy in music lessons at age eight. It was after seeing the film Young Man with a Horn, starring Kirk Douglas, that Mangione decided to take up playing the trumpet. Along with his brother Gap, himself a budding pianist, Mangione began improvising at home.
Rather than lamenting the possibility of having two sons taking up the unsteady life of jazz musicians, Mangione's father instead escorted him to the nearby Ridgecrest Inn, where famed jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and Dizzy Gillespie often performed. After repeated visits, Mangione, then fifteen, was introduced to Gillespie, and gradually the two became friends. "We'd be playing every Sunday afternoon with Dizzyn fact, that's where I got to know Dizzy and he gave me [his] upswept hornnd there were sessions at our house practically every night of the week," Mangione remembered to Down Beat writer Jim Szantor.
By the late 1950s, the aspiring Mangione was juggling an academic career at the Eastman School of Music and a role in the Jazz Brothers, a combo he had formed with Gap during his final year of high school. While a university education bolstered Mangione's musical knowledge and exposed him to the flugelhorn, later to become his pet instrument, Mangione found the environment too rigid and concentrated on his extracurricular jamming. "I did what a lot of young people do when something is not their way: I rebelled against everything," Mangione later told Lee Underwood in Down Beat. "Because of that, I didn't really take advantage of the four years I spent as an Eastman student. I never studied composition, and I never studied orchestrationhe very things that would have been extremely beneficial to me today."
When Mangione graduated from Eastman in 1963 he had already cut three albums with the Jazz Brothers, but he was still a long way from being an established artist. In 1965, he decided to join the ranks of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers one of the foremost names in the New York City club circuit, for whom he played trumpet until 1968. In the meantime, Mangione tried his hand at teaching, first at parochial schools, then at the Hochstein School of Music in Rochester, an institution that offered first rate training to underprivileged youths. Remembering his own experiences as a student, Mangione also served as the chair of a jazz program at his alma mater, where he pushed students to connect their performance of jazz with experiences and feelings outside the academy. "I used to teach courses on how to ride a bus and how to check into an airport," Mangione later quipped to Nolan. "No kidding, there's so much missing from reality in relationship to young musicians and where they are going that somebody has to tell them what's coming."
Created Special Image
In addition to his unconditional placement of personal feelings in music, Mangione had also become known for his trademark style. While many performers at the time still donned formal gear on the stage, Mangione chose to maintain acasual look, topped off by a wide brimmed, floppy hat given to him by friends Bill and Marie Tedeschi in 1965. "Everybody was so uptight with all those [black ties and] tails,"Mangione told Underwood. "That had to be wiped away so musicians could feel free like they naturally feel." In addition, his complete abandonment of the trumpet in favor of the flugelhorn in 1968 struck some as unusual, but gave Mangione's music its own special flavor.
Nearing his thirtieth birthday, Mangione decided to take the full plunge towards being a professional musician. Although he had formed his own quartet in 1969, he found that many of his compositions begged for the sound of a large orchestration. After a largely unsuccessful concert performance called Kaleidoscope, Mangione directed a show at Eastman in 1970 called "Friends and Love, " a fifty person arrangement that was simulcast on a local television channel. The performance was committed to a double record set, and after local sales took off, Mangione was offered a four album contract with Mercury Records.
It was during his years at Mercury that Mangione's fame erupted towards international proportions, with both Friends and Love and Land of Make Believe, recorded in 1973, garnering Mangione's first Grammy Award nominations. While still experimenting with larger arrangements, Mangione also continued with his quartet, which was comprised of Gerry Norwood on saxophone and flute, Chip Jackson on bass, Joe LaBarbera on drums, and of course Mangione himself playing flugelhorn. However, Mangione felt that despite his popularity, his music still was not reaching far enough beyond circles of jazz buffs and he decided to move to the A&M label.
Jerry Moss and horn-player Herb Alpert, A&M's coowners, ran their company with loose reins, and Mangione was allowed to handle his next album exactly as he saw fit. The result was Chase the Clouds Away, released in 1975, an album that paired intimate cuts played by Mangione's quartet with expansive, forty-member orchestrations. Mangione was yet again graced with several Grammy bids for the record and he was fully satisfied with the studio conditions at his new label. "All the music was done live in the studio," Mangione told Underwood of Clouds. "There was no over dubbing. We were playing eight and nine minute takes with an orchestra, and they were all good. It was like picking between red wine and white wine."
As the 1970s drew to a close, Mangione had reached his commercial and critical peak through his A&M efforts. With Bellavia, his 1976 follow-up to the million-selling Chase the Clouds Away, Mangione finally snared his first Grammy win for the album's title cut in the category of Best Instrumental Composition. However, it was the release of Mangione's fourth A&M album Feels So Good that inscribed him in the annals of popular music history. The record's title track climbed to the Number Two position on the pop charts, a feat almost unheard of for a jazz musician, and the album itself went double platinum. In addition, Mangione scored again with his double record soundtrack for The Children of Sanchez in 1979, in spite of the fact that the film was never released.
Continued Despite Critical Backlash
In the wake of Mangione's crossover into the mass market, some critics pessimistically assumed that such popularity could only be accounted for by Mangione's debasement of jazz. Despite his own favor for Mangione's music, Nolan noticed that it had "been dismissed by some as something like 'bubblegum jazz' with the content of a Bazooka [Gum] wrapper cartoon." Others claimed that whatever claims Mangione made of passionate performing, his own style lacked the powerful eroticism many associate with jazz. "His sexuality has all of the rage and passion of a Continental breakfast," one critic was quoted as saying to Underwood after seeing Mangione play live. "Let's face it: Chuck Mangione's audience came to be lulled and caressed, to be held close to mama's breast, to be lovingly patted all over with Johnson's Musical Baby Powder. He picks up his horn and spills out Cream of Wheat laced with dollar signs."
Mangione himself was nonchalant towards such scathing criticism, as he had also been towards fervent praise in equal measure. "It seems there is always something wrong, maybe from a critic's or musician's point of view, when the public begins to accept something," Mangione told Schaeffer. "They think it must be 'commercial;' it must be 'watered down;' it must be this or that. To me the musician who's performing is usually the guy who can best evaluate whether it is good or bad." Mangione felt that such critics were blinded by preconceptions of musical categories, to their own detriment. "It's like spaghetti sauce," he analogized to Schaeffer. "You get twenty Italian mothers to cook a sauce and each sauce is going to taste different. However, you can have a good time with all of them."
In the early 1980s, Mangione enjoyed his position as an entertainment figure to dabble in unexpected new terrain. In 1980, he was given the impressive task of composing a theme for the Winter Olympics, held in Lake Placid, New York, and from then on he was frequently invited to play the American National Anthem at major sporting venues. Mangione also provided theme music for other, less prominent outings, such as the film The Cannonball Run and television's Larry King Show. Mangione even turned out an acting performance for an episode of the action-drama Magnum P.I. in February of 1984.
Although it seemed at the time that Mangione's career was an unstoppable force, as the decade wore on he quickly slipped out of mainstream visibility. In 1981, Mangione's contract with A&M had run its course, and he decided to sign with Columbia. Unfortunately, most of his work for Columbia, as well the occasional releases on his own Feels So Good label, was largely forgettable, and failed to pass muster from either critics or fans. Nevertheless, Mangione held fast as a master showman, and continued to give live performances, if on a somewhat smaller scale.
The 1988 release Eyes of the Veiled Temptress was a slight return to form, and at the very least proved that Mangione had more in store for him than greatest hits packages and reissues alone. Still, it was a return to his past that gave Mangione's career its biggest boost in years. In 1997, Mangione organized a comeback tour that reassembled his quartet from the recording of Feels So Good, during which he delivered well received takes on his most memorable compositions.
Friends and Love, Mercury, 1970.
The Chuck Mangione Quartet, Mercury, 1971.
Alive!, Mercury, 1972.
Together, Mercury, 1973.
Land of Make Believe, Mercury, 1972.
Chase the Clouds Away, A&M, 1975
Bellavia, A&M, 1975
Main Squeeze, A&M, 1976
Feels So Good, A&M, 1977.
The Best of Chuck Mangione, Mercury, 1977.
Children of Sanchez, A&M, 1979
Fun and Games, A&M, 1980
Tarantella, A&M, 1981
Love Notes, Columbia, 1982.
Live at the Village Gate, Feels So Good, 1987.
Eyes of the Veiled Temptress, Columbia, 1988.
Compact Jazz, The Best of Chuck Mangione Live, Verve, 1992.
Greatest Hits, Feels So Good, 1996
Down Beat, November 25, 1971; May 24, 1973, May 8, 1975; March 23, 1978
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