Chuck Mangione, probably the most famous flueglhorn player in the world, is called "Chuck Mediocre" by jazz connoisseurs. Critics dismiss his music as ephemeral and superficial.

But Mangione's albumns sell by the millions and his recording of his piece, "Feels So Good," is an international smash hit, perhaps the most recognizable melody since The Beatles' "Michelle."

Mangione's reviews of the critics are as vehement as their opinions of him.

I've seen it happen all the time," he said yesterday, sitting in his hotel suite, hours before a concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion. "Cannonball (Adderley) had a great group of honkers (players). Then they had a hit with 'Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,' and all the critics got down on them.

"I always tried to play melodic music. I'm here to play the kind of music I like. And I'm very grateful that the public has accepted my music."

The 38-year-old musician, whose public dress always includes a narrow-brimmed, floppy hat, stroked his beard and fondled his horn.

"Dizzy (Gillespie) likes my music. He was leaving my house the other day and somebody asked him if he liked my music, and he said, 'Sure.'

"Our music is very accessible. I don't want to play anything that people have to use a dictionary to understand. When I was at the Eastman School, some of the things I heard sounded like they were written for nobody. They were just dead!"

Mangione's career has been a steady climb toward popularity. After leading a group with his brother, Gap, in the mid-'60s, he played with Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and Art Blakey. From 1968 until 1972, he was director of the Eastman Music School jazz ensemble.

In 1970, he appeared with the Rochester Philharmonic on a PBS special and introduced "Friends and Love," a composition that blended pop, jazz, folk and classical influences. The piece achieved wide commercial success and pointed the future direction for Mangione.

He began performing with other symphony orchestras. The pieces he recorded would not tax the listening habits of a child.

Many jazz fans didn't like his direction. Yesterday, he protested their characterization of him.

"Our music involved improvisation," he said, his tone becoming testy. "I never professed to be a musician of any category. I grew up listening to the jazz masters -- Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Duke Ellington.

"When I met Dizzy, I was probably 12. My father used to invite him by our house. He was a great honker. His music had strong black and African rhythms, which I gravitated to.

"One thing about him I always liked. He invited people to become involved in his music. He would introduce the pieces and the guys in the band. I try to do that.

"So if you call what we play pop because a lot of people like it, then it's popular. I think of myself as playing Chuck Mangione music.

"I play because I enjoy playing. I think musicians were made to play for people. And another thing I want to say: I think we helped save instrumental music from extinction. Before we came along, a lot of young guys were turning to guitars and singing. But all that's changed -- and we helped do it."

Mangione, who is tanned and keeps his 5-foot-7 frame at a trim 126 pounds, is separated from his wife, and is traveling on this tour with his two daughters, Nancy, 11, and Diana, 9.

"They're out at the pool," he said, pointing toward the window. "Occasionally they get upset when I'm recognized by a lot of people -- autograph seekers. Physical recognition is a problem when you're other than an ordinary, B-flat human being.

"Sometimes they'll say, 'Dad, leave your hat in the car.' Then we can walk unnoticed."

Almost two years ago, Mangione composed the score for the film "Children of Sanchez." It won a Grammy.

After seeing 5 1/2 hours of rough footage, he did the score in three weeks, handing in 23 1/2 hours of recorded music. And though he was disappointed with the way the music was used ("themes were switched and some things were cut"), he was happy to have the experience and would like another.

But the tie-ins between film companies and record firms have prevented him from doing another score. His company, A&M, has no link with a studio.

So for now, Mangione is concentrating on concerts.After finishing this eastern tour, he's scheduled to go to Japan.

"I'm taking music to people all over the world," he said, rocking in his straight-back chair. "We're out there playing the music for the people and they're reacting to it."