THE SCENE must have been all too familiar to Jean Pierre Rampal. Late Tuesday night after his performance at Wolf Trap, he stopped at a little French restaurant for a bit to eat. Though the nearly deserted dining room was lit only dimly, an admirer recognized him immediately.
"Your concert, I loved it," said the fan, rising from his table to greet the master flutist.
But Rampal recognized this man. "Ah," he responded warmly to the greeting offered by fellow flutist Herbie Mann. "It is a long time I have been an admirer of you."
The formalities between the jazz man and the classical wizard were over before they sat down to their midnight dinner at Pierre et Madeleine Restaurant in Vienna. "You will excuse me, I have no tie," said Rampal, touching his neck and eyeing the carefully tied knot at Mann's collar.
"Thank you," said Mann, tugging at the tie in question. "I've been carrying this thing around in my pocket for hours."
The meeting, arranged by restaurateur Pierre Sosnitsky, was six months in the planning. Mann told his friend Sosnitsky he wanted to meet Rampal, whom he admired greatly despite the distance separating their music. Mann's improvisational jazz flute is a far cry from the classical repertory with which Rampal is more comfortable.
"Music is music. There is only two kinds," Rampal said. "It either feels good or it doesn't."
"You admire perfection," Mann said. "A professional is a professional whatever the case."
To bridge any differences there may have been between the two artists, Sosnitsky invited Baltimore flutist Paula Hatcher who plays both jazz and classical music. Yet Hatcher's presence was hardly needed. Rampal and Mann chatted as if they were old school chums recalling old times and old friends, hardly giving lookers-on Hatcher, John Steele Ritter (Rampal's piano accompanist) or John Melick (a Baltimore trombonist) a chance to speak.
"I heard you ran into a friend of mine, Hubie Laws, last year," Mann said. "Didn't you record an album together?"
"Yes, we did two galas, in San Francisco and Los Angeles," Rampal responded. "They did tape them, but there was no album. I was not pleased. When I play next to a good jazz musician, I look like a beggar. Only with the Bolling suite can it work, when everything is written down."
Mann then suggested the possibility of a duet, a classical work followed by a jazz improvisation. "Why can't you play the first thing of prelude straight, then work out an improvisation off of that for the other?"
"I don't want to be part of the sacrilege, to take classical music and improvise on it," Rampal said. "I am against it unless you take baroque."
Testing the waters for disagreement, Rampal asked his jazz counterpart if he liked avant-garde jazz.
"No," Mann said. "I am a romanticist. I want to hear melodies, not sound for sound's sake."
"Thank you," Rampal murmured.
Will they ever perform together?
"I'd love to," Mann said immediately.
"Who knows," Rampal said with a characteristic shrug of his shoulders. "It would have to be so right."