"It's kind of like putting on comfortable shoes and walking into the past."
That's how fluegelhornist Chuck Mangione describes his brief reunion tour with the Jazz Brothers, a group he and his brother, pianist Gap Mangione, led 25 years ago. It was Chuck Mangione's first major band, and included such heavyweights as Sal Nistico, tenor sax (on current tour), bassist Jimmy Garrison (John Coltrane) and drummer Roy McCurdy (Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson).
This busman's holiday tour, which began in New York last month with a 10-day stay at the Blue Note, wraps up today through Sunday at Concerts by the Sea.
The reunion has brought back memories. "I was 19 years old when we made our first record ("The Jazz Brothers" for Riverside) and the world of recording and being on the road was brand new to me," Mangione said. "It was a very positive time."
Mangione made his recording debut through the late altoist Adderly. "He heard a 45 rpm disc we made and signed us," Mangione said in a phone conversation from San Francisco. "We went to (New York) to record. Those were the days you put one mike for the horns, one in the bass, one in the piano and you just hit it. Six hours later you had an album."
The reunion has also made the 46-year-old Mangione, one of instrumental music's most popular performers, realize how far he's come since his first playing days in Rochester, N.Y., where he was born. "I never dreamt of having records that would be heard by people throughout the world." The Jazz Brothers' bop-oriented repertoire is worlds apart from pop/jazz hits like "Feels So Good" and "Land of Make Believe" that have given the fluegelhornist his extensive audience. Still, Mangione said he had little trouble getting his chops in shape for hot jazz blowing.
"I didn't go through any great ritual of doing this or that," he said. "It's kind of like riding a bicycle," "Once you've ridden and you get back on it, it comes back pretty fast."
Happily, "(the tour) has been a good time," the bearded two-time Grammy-winner continued. "It's very much now like it was then--there's a whole lot of swingin' goin' on. Sal is as fantastic as ever, Gap is playing wonderfully. The biggest difference is that I'm honking (Mangione's pet phrase for playing a wind or brass instrument) on a fluegelhorn instead of a trumpet and surprising myself that I can play this stuff on this horn."
Mangione left the Jazz Brothers in the '60s "to find my own identity." He spent two-and-a-half years with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers ("That was a band I always wanted to be a part of"), before returning to Rochester.
Starting with the personally-funded "Friends and Love" LP, Mangione has achieved phenomenal success for a 'honker.' His "Feels So Good" soared to Number 4 on the Billboard Pop charts in 1978, and the A&M; LP of the same name has sold over 2 million copies. But Mangione, whose most recent disc is "Save Tonight For Me"(CBS), doesn't think his audience cares whether he has a hit or not.
"The devotion to the music has really been something," he acknowledged. "A lot of groups sell a ton of records one year, the next year nobody remembers them. Our people don't seem to come and go with a particular recording. The listeners keep me out on the road nine months a year."
Mangione doesn't mind the grind, whether it's with the Jazz Brothers or with his own group. "I'm not in love with hotels and airports, but there's a daily kind of gratification that comes from making people happy with my playing," he said.