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[June 11, 1997] -- Gap Mangione's new release, Planet Gap soars among celestial greats of the jazz world; big band versions of well-known tunes by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and brother Chuck.

But leading off is a tune that perhaps everyone in America has heard a few thousand times or so, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

"An important work of jazz?" muses Mangione. "No. I think of a ball game as fun, and the song is a tip of the hat to that."

And maybe it's a little more too. Mangione admits the role of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is as a promotional tool. It's Mangioneís hope that his breezy little arrangement "will become the theme music of some ballpark," he says. "It has a concert-band sound, with kind of a gazebo sounding break in the middle. It's a tip of the hat to the same kind of tradition that baseball has."

Planet Gap - loaded with sprawling but peppy arrangements of old jazz tunes as well as some of Mangione's own compositions - is available in stores now. The Mangione Big Band will present the work in a series of four shows beginning Friday under the stars at the Lincoln Hill Inn in Canandaigua.

It's Mangione's first album since 1989's The Boys From Rochester with brother Chuck, and his first solo release since Dancin' 10 years earlier. But Mangione has hardly been a recluse and while the Big Band plays everything from music festivals to bar mitzvahs, it's only an occasional part of his story.

"If I had to play with a big band every night," says Mangione, "that would be real hard, physically. Playing with a big band is like leading a team of horses."

Mostly, Mangione is a fixture at the Lodge at Woodcliff in Perinton, where he plays solo piano on Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, and plays with his New Blues Band Friday and Saturday evenings. Earlier this week, he and Chuck - The Jazz Brothers, whose history playing together goes back to 1958 - has a gig at New York City's prestigious Blue Note Jazz Club.

The Mangione story is well known in these parts, so hereís the Reader's Digest version: Natives of Rochester, Gap - that's Gaspar on the birth certificate - and Chuck grew up in a music minded home. Frank Mangione, their father who ran a grocery store on Martin Street, took the boys to see all of the great jazz players who came to town. They included performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, who remained an influence and friend until his death a few years ago.

As a 14-year-old trumpeter, Chuck sat in with jazz legends Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, attended the Eastman School of Music and eventually went on to compose and play Grammy winning and acclaimed compositions such as "Feels So Good" and "Hill Where The Lord Hides."

Gap attended Syracuse University for a while and, when he ran out of money, began playing with the Dixieland band Salt City Six. He returned to SU to earn a bachelor's degree, but by then the brothers were recording together and separately, thanks in part to the help of saxophone great Cannonball Adderly, who heard them at the now defunct Rochester jazz icon, the Pythodd Club.

Even as commitments drew them to both coasts, Gap and Chuck have never left the Rochester jazz scene. "Quality of life" is something Gap mentions often. Both still live in Greece - Chuck also keeps an apartment in New York City - and have always had regular gigs in town.

Gap's extensive credits include eight solo albums and 13 group efforts as diverse as albums with Salt City Six, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, 1981's Tarantella [with Gillespie, Chuck and local drummer Steve Gadd, one of his regular side men] and Chuck's recent unreleased album, The Hat is Back.

Onstage and off, Gap is smiling, enthusiastic and unfailingly polite. "People are apt to treat you the way you treat people," he says.

In some respects, Gap seems quite different from his brother. There's an orderly presence in Gap, who often presents his thoughts as lists ["No. 1 . . . "].

They don't dress the same. Old photos don't lie, and Gap has a beard and leather phase. But today, "I'm conservative in the way I dress," he says. "A suit, a tie and tux is my norm. That's never the case with Chuck."

And Gap is also more . . . ?

"Placid?" he ventures.

Indeed. Chuck's legendary big heartedness is sometimes balanced by his equally legendary volcanic eruptions.

"Chuck," admits Gap, "is his own man."

But I think we're very alike in other ways. Musically, we both believe in melody - something people can take along with them." Something you'll be whistling afterward.

Planet Gap, with Mangione's penchant for expanding on poptune themes, offers plenty of that. But is that enough to win a wide audience for big band music?

Mangione believes Planet Gap has a couple things working for him on that account. "No. 1 is name recognition," he says. "No. 2 is cover art." The album features a seductive and mysterious piece of pop art by Rochester's Ramon Santiago that Mangione hopes will draw attention to the music.

"There's going to be people who don't know anything about the music, but are going to like it," he says. "It's like Duke Ellington said 'There's two kinds of music, good and bad.' In the end, you either like it or you can shut it off."