Many of Gap Mangione’s stories have one thing in common: if Gap Mangione weren’t telling them, they’d be hard to believe.
Take the one he tells about playing at the Randall Island Jazz Festival when his band was so young, two of the members were teenagers.
“We opened the show and were followed by Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and at least two other groups,” Mangione recounted. “We were too young to be scared. How do you follow Ellington or Coltrane? But we did.”
They were emboldened by youth and familiarity with big names.
Mangione’s parents not only picked up on Gap and his brother Chuck’s love of music, the fostered it by inviting to dinner musicians playing in Rochester.
Improvisations sessions usually followed the food.
“And there we were and it happened so often and nonchalantly we kind of figured that’s how it should be,” Mangione said.
“Papa” Mangione also made sure his sons got a new record every Sunday and Gap laughs about how his father would talk his way into clubs with the boys so they could listen live to the latest music.
It wasn’t long before Cannonball Adderley, a well-known Jazz musician, noticed the Mangione brothers and called Gap while he was playing at Rochester’s legendary Jazz lounge, The Pythodd.
“He said, ‘Can you get out of the contract you’re in,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I just let myself out because we did it ourselves,’ he then offered the Riverside contract,” Mangione said.
Riverside was a major Jazz label then.
Gap and Chuck Mangione, who went by the title The Jazz Brothers, produced several albums together.
Gap Mangione then struck out on his own with the album Diana in the Autumn Wind, which featured future greats Steve Gadd and Tony Levin, both of whom studied at the Eastman School of Music.
“People assume because of the Eastman school there are so many great Jazz players in this area, actually the Jazz players were here and the good news is a lot of the people who were involved with the Eastman School of Music discovered that and connected themselves with those players who were here,” Mangione said.
Gap toured the world, but Rochester remained home.
And he still plays here.
On most Friday nights you can catch him behind the piano at Woodcliff Hotel and Spa.
His music enlivens the room, much like, one can imagine, other legendary musicians did to his childhood home.
It was in that home Mangione learned much of what he had to about music and, most importantly, family.
“It’s been a blessed life,” he said.
Steve Gadd and Tony Levin will be inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame on April 22. To get tickets, click here.