Reconsidering The Mangy One

I like traipsing through my musical past and trying to make sense of it.
Some people are almost reflexively embarrassed by their childhood records, others cling to them unyieldingly. I prefer to walk a middle road. There’s some good stuff in there. I like finding it. And I’m fine to get rid of that which no longer holds up.

A good example is Chuck Mangione. Often ill-remembered for his exceedingly eccentric fashion sense, and the schlock classic “Feels So Good,” (let’s see you get a Top 10 instrumental hit record — twice), Chuck was the inspiration to many marching band-types — to what must have been the utter delight of music teachers everywhere.
Simultaneously pedagogical and flamboyant, Chuck (we trumpet players always called him by his first name, in a nerdly zeal) managed to straddle that once-precarious chasm between rock and roll and the “serious” music that our teachers and parents seemed to prefer that we embrace. He did it by using conservatory-trained music nerds to play this ecstatic, um, burning Spanish jazz-rock-fusion thing that I have not really heard elsewhere to this day.
Not that I want to, mind you.
In this case of reappraisal, I am happy to put the needle down on songs like “Echano” or “Bellavia,” and I don’t need much more than that — partially because his records seem notoriously uneven, in retrospect. But several of them — Children of Sanchez and Chase the Clouds Away, in particular — contain remarkable material.*

At their best, his compositions (and ensembles) were careening and awesome — or they “burned,” as we liked to say. And 20 years later, I can see how those recordings would excite the ears of a technique-obsessed teen, otherwise focused on Rush and British heavy metal.
And the funny juncture of all this is that, 25 years after quitting marching band — for all the dorks and nerds — I’m in one again.
Last night, we were having percussion practice and I cracked a “CoS” (pronounced “coz,” in case you wanna get even nerdier) joke and nobody got it.
I went into a mock fury: “…You people call yourselves ‘band nerds?!’ And you don’t know Children of Sanchez?!? I can’t work under these conditions.”

Finally, our leader, the magnificent Tripp Bratton showed up, and not only did he fully get it, he told this story:
Years ago, he was playing in some drum line in Cincinnati, and they had been performing CoS. By coincidence, Mangione was in town for his sister’s wedding, and had heard tell of it — and he hunted them down, and got them to perform at his sister’s wedding. Tripp’s recollection: “He’s short. Really short.”
• • •
As I get older, I love to reconsider music. I’m fortunate to have a facility for keeping up with the “hip new thing,” and also enjoy honestly reappraising the music of my childhood. I still have some of those records, but they have been mercilessly culled over the years. I like to think that I won’t keep (too many) things for purely sentimental value. It has to have genuine merit.
And those couple of Chuck Mangione records that I still have are in no danger of being discarded. They hold up pretty damned well.
As I final note, the monkey business about Children of Sanchez set me thinking about how it was — as I had always known — actually the soundtrack of a movie, directed by Hall Bartlett (a kind of iconoclast-sentimentalist who also did Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a bizarre and polarizing film best discussed another time). Of course, in the 80’s, living in a small Kentucky town, our chances of seeing this film (to say nothing of potentially liking it) were pretty much none-to-zero.
What’s neat is that, in this Internet age, I can find the movie Children of Sanchez.
And I think I’ll watch it — just to see how this music that formed a portion of my life for decades was intended to be presented. Maybe it won’t suck. But it’s okay, if it does. It won’t subtract from the goodness that I’ve gleaned from the short man in the funny hat with the weird horn.
Thanks, Chuck.
*I wish I could find a copy of Alive!, the limber, hard bop 1972 quartet record (with Tony Levin, as I recall) that kind of pre-dates “the Chuck sound.” Last I checked it seemed to be totally out of print. Oh, goodie — here it is. Thanks, Internet!

0 Replies to “Reconsidering The Mangy One”

  1. Nice!

    I bought Live at the Hollywood Bowl on CD a few years ago (still have the record but my turntable hasn't been hooked up for years). I have to limit myself to listening to it only occasionally, because the riffs get stuck in my head. After my third day of whistling solos from "Hill Where the Lord Hides" it gets a little old.

  2. Let's not forget the nicknames (going from memory here):

    Charles "Meat Man" Meeks

    "General" Grant Geissman(sp?)

    Chris "Vadala" Vadala (lame!)

    James Bradley Jr. – I've got nothing

  3. Mick will recall my previous post on Chuck. Yes we called him by his first name also, usually with an implied exclamation point. (!) That spiel is here:

    To that, I add a memory of going to see CM @ WVU sometime in the 80's & he said something like "Stop by the lobby & buy something from Papa Mangione." Sure enough Chuck's Dad was the one & only staff member at the souvenir stand. As I recall he was a mangy upstate NY Cat with a large belly – holding forth & holding it down. I got a terrible T-Shirt celebrating a terrible album. Oh my.

    Here's another one; A few years later (89?) one of my private trumpet lessons at UK was interrupted by a phone call from Chris Vadala (my teacher's college roommate.) He was calling with the news that Chuck(!) had just fired the band. Ah Show Biz.

    Anyone need any Doc Severinsen stories? I've got a few to spare. Then again that might be taking things too far.

    Yay Chuck!

  4. JT, I was hoping you'd rehash your possible Chuck sighting in the Hamptons. 🙂

    I think I remember — Tim can you back this up? — that he came to Daviess County High..maybe it was Maynard..

    Anyway, I just remember that that band had to wear matching jumpsuits..

  5. I recall roadtripping to see Maynard at the Big E in Evansville. Moredock went, and somehow I think Robert Merritt was involved too. I have not seen Chuck–it would be a bit sad to see him now w/o "the" band, but like Maynard I'm sure he can surround himself with some dynamite no-name musicians at the drop of a hat.

  6. and i'll bet they'd be students! interns!


    i kinda remember you guys going to Maynard..

    but don't you remember somebody who came to DCHS with jumpsuits?

    Maybe this is something I saw at DePauw.

    I don't think I saw Chuck, under closer consideration.. I would certainly remember better.

    Back to the nickname thing: I can't remember any more, but that "role call riff" is easily summonable.. is it from "Main Squeeze?"

    bah bah BUMP!

    "General Grant Geissman!"

    bah bah BUMP!

    "Charles "meat man" Meeks!"

    bah bah BUMP!

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