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DM) At one point in your musical career you took a bit of a hiatus. Why?
CM) The hiatus you spoke about happened in 1998. I was somewhat numb from being out on the road every night. I had to stop because I was emotionally and physically drained. In 1994, I started touring again and I recorded two albums for Chesky Jazz.
DM) How did your role in the television show "King of the Hill" come up?
CM) Eight months before "King of The Hill" was on television, I received the script from them, describing my role as the spokesman for "Megalo-mart" withthe theme, "Feels So Good." My character would do things like play "Taps" andswitch right into "Feels So Good." I figured that since they were playing my music and to such a large audience, why not? So I jumped into the studio in New York; they would call from LA, and then I'd see a thing that looked like me on the television screen. Many people watch that show so it is great exposure.
DM) Do you feel that the success of "Feels so Good" haunts you to this day or is it a blessing?
CM) I celebrate it every day; after all, it put my two daughters through college and introduced my music to the world. The album sales jumped from 250,000 to the millions and the industry looks different at you when you become a superstar. They expect the next album to be just like the last one and you have to shoot for that type.
I can count on one hand the number of instrumental hits there have been over the last ten years. Specifically, I think "Feels So Good" was such a hit because of the Bee Gees. "Saturday Night Fever" had saturated radio; I think the top 6 out of l0 hits were from that album. Radio programmers couldn't figure out what to put on instead and when somebody edited "Feels so Good" from 9 minutes down to three, they instantly started playing it as an alternative to what were the current top songs.
DM) I guess they figured it was so different from the Bee Gees, "Let's put it on see what happens".
CM) And it got such a great reaction then. It was incredible to go from a few people knowing about you to doing commercials and tours around the world. We did a Memorex with Ella Fitzgerald, so now people finally knew what the guy looked like. I remember I went to a hotel in Hong Kong and the bellhop was whistling "Feels So Good."
DM) Did it really put your two daughters through college?
CM) And more. (laughs)
I do not mind having written the song at all. I just wish that I had written it in a different key, as the high d is hard to play. I am glad that I wrote something that brought joy to millions of people.
DM) How big a surprise was it then when the song became such a hit?
CM) My goal was never to sell many records. I write music people enjoy playing and listening to, and I have a group that loves playing the music. I have been recording for five decades now. I have recorded in the 50's with my brother Gap in our group, The Jazz Brothers. I recorded in the 1960's with Art Blakey.
DM) Art Blakey? How did that come about?
CM) Art was looking around for a horn player and he called Dizzie Gillespie. Dizzie said "Do you remember that kid from Rochester, NY?" and he recommended me to play with him. That was a great time because in that group was Keith Garret and Chick Corea.
DM) How does your recent music compare to when you had the superstar hit, as you put it?
CM) My music has always been strong in melodic content. It has always been very "Chuck Mangione". We allow space for improvisation. I think people today are hearing music that I recorded thirty years ago and do not listen to it as if it is something old but just something good. After 30 albums and recording live, he must have done something right.
One reason it has been successful is that people are not impressed so much by individuals performing it as much as remembering an individual melody.
DM) What about your songs makes the melodies so memorable?
CM) I was born at the right time. I entered this world in 1940, which brought me into what I think is the best time for music. At that point, what was top 40 music could have been called jazz. Growing up, I heard live Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzie and Art Blakey. You could hear them playing in intimate music rooms that would hold maybe around 100 people. So many great songs were written. You could turn on the radio and hear Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and all the other legends... I remember in high school hearing music by Chet Baker, Gerry Milligan, April in Paris... Music and jazz musicians would develop into my repertoire. Jazz standards like these had great melodies written by great composers.
DM) Every article about you mentions "The Hat". What is the story behind that?
CM) As a young kid I used to wear a baseball cap, but in 1969, a hat like one I have now was given to me as a present from some good friends. Pictures were taken for the album cover with me in that hat and out on tour and after seeing the photos, before I went on tour, the record company asked, "Where's the hat?" Since then, I started wearing it all the time. No, it is not attached to my head, and no, I do not wear it in the shower. And no, I do not have gangrene from wearing it all the time! (laughs)
DM) Now what is on the latest album?
CM) The new album released this week is called, "Everything for Love". It has nine songs I have written, plus a performance of "Amazing Grace." I wrote a song for Papa Mangione, a song for my daughter, and of course one for Peggy Hill.
DM) You wrote a song for Peggy Hill?
CM) CM) Sure, and Peggy Hill wrote back saying that it was the most inspiring songshe's heard since "Feels So Good." Hank Hill wrote back saying, "Chuck's lips should be preserved as a national treasure."
The first album I recorded for Chesky Jazz was "The Feeling's Back". We recorded it in St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Manhattan. They set the group up on the altar, put one mike in the middle of us and we just played live. It is a lovely approach to a live sound. Right on tape, you cannot remix it, so it is a very honest performance. There is a great sound on this. The players on the record really played without having to rely on volume so it has a very raw, natural sound.
To do it always right, that is what music is to me. You do not stop and say, "Whoops, try again". I made many studio albums and I think the danger of studio recording is that if you do not watch out, you come out with a perfectly sterile performance. A studio recording is perfection, but emotion and passion come only when you turn on the machine and go for the groove. If you do that with no mistakes, it sounds beautiful.