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Mangione Brothers: Hey Baby!


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Gap Mangione
Post-war jazz was peppered with fraternal wonders. Among the many families with exceptional jazz siblings in the 1950s were the Montgomerys, the Garners, the Turrentines, the Heaths, the Adderleys, the Joneses (Hank, Thad and Elvin) and the Candolis. Jazz wasn't genetic. In the decade after the end of World War II, music was one of the few ways up and out of crowded households and poverty. Later, of course, would come the Marsalises, the Breckers, the Cohens, the Claytons and others.

Back in the late 1950s, another set of jazz siblings coming up was Gap and Chuck Mangione. They grew up in Rochester, N.Y., a thriving jazz community then and now. Gap and Chuck began playing together professionally in 1958. Though the Mangiones' parents didn't play musical instruments, their father loved jazz and took them regularly to the Ridgecrest, a local jazz club. Chuck was captivated by the trumpet after seeing the 1950 film Young Man With a Horn, and Gap started out on accordion.

Sixty years ago today, the Mangiones recorded Hey Baby! for Riverside as The Jazz Brothers. It was their second of three albums for the label. Their first, recorded in 1960, was produced by Cannonball Adderley. The band on Hey Baby! featured Chuck Mangione (tp), Sal Nistico (ts), Gap Mangione (p), Steve Davis (b) and Roy McCurdy (d). Nistico was from nearby Syracuse, and Roy McCurdy, was from Rochester. Davis was from Philadelphia. Chuck and Nistico were 20 at the time. Gap was two years older.

The quintet was akin to other hard bop groups at the time, such as Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the Horace Silver Quintet. But the Mangiones, with Nistico and the singular rhythm section, had a different sound—more crackling and snappy. The tracks are Chuck's title song, Milt Jackson's Bags' Groove, the standard The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, Frank Pullara's Givin' the Business, Nistico's What's Happ'nin'?, the standards Old Folks and Just You Just Me, and Chuck's The Bassett Sound. The last song, Gap tells me, was named for Bob Bassett, a Rochester radio DJ the band had become friends with when starting the Jazz Brothers.

Most interesting about this recording is the music's eagerness and restless drive. Kennedy had just been inaugurated president less than two months earlier and a new generation of Americans felt an exciting cultural change. The youthquake had begun—first with young jazz musicians, then with folk and finally rock several years later. This fresh spirit can be heard in The Bassett Sound, with Gap's inventive hard-bop piano, Nistico's zig-zagging style and Chuck's Gillespie-inspired horn. There was a new dawn back then, similar to today as we start to see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. This is how five guys with a big record deal sounded—excited, bold and on their way.

Yesterday, I asked Gap for his recollections:

Hi Marc. I recall that Plaza Sound, where we recorded, was up over Radio City [at 45 Rockefeller Plaza on 50th Street], that it was a hell of a climb helping Roy carry his drums up all those stairs. There were no roadies. It seemed quite different from our first Riverside session. We were now a quintet. Bassist Steve Davis had joined us after his five-album period with John Coltrane. The time groove hook-up between Steve and drummer Roy McCurdy was something we all loved. We planned in advance five tunes—two from Chuck, one from Sal and one from Rochester bassist Frank Pullara, plus “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes." We knew we were going to do a ballad. “Old Folks" was chosen at the session, and we decided that “Just You, Just Me" would close out the session.

We didn’t try to model our group after any particular group, although we certainly knew the Jazz Messengers and the Horace Silver Quintet. Each of us brought our personal style of playing to the effort, and Steve and Roy added that incredible groove-time feeling. This was the way I remember most hard bop players and groups formatted themselves then. Original material, very young and strong horn players, and the very accomplished rhythm section helped us stand out from most other groups.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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