Volume 73, Number 46 | March 17 -23, 2004

Music


Mike Longo brings his magic to Gillespie Auditorium

By Lionelle Hamanka

Mike Longo, a hip cat with a trim moustache and jaunty air was radiant one recent evening, even though a snowstorm was plummeting onto the streets during a “New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble” concert at the John Birks (“Dizzy”) Gillespie Auditorium located in the New York Baha’i Center at 53 East 11th Street.

Longo’s jazz ensemble offers a rare combination: a living composer who composes beautiful songs and writes great arrangements, along with top-notch soloists. (Other composer-arrangers of high quality have big bands that do not perform on a regular basis). Longo’s program had songs in modern harmony and thrilling rhythmic settings, e.g., two blues, a minor blues entitled “The Godfather” and a powerful blues march “Bag Of Bones” composed by Longo. “Infusion” rose in a breakneck curve to an exciting climax where tenor saxophonists Frank Perowsky and Bill Easly displayed their improvising talents in compelling solos.

“Aftermath,” and “Explosion,” the band’s CDs, both placed first in Brazil as ‘best cd,” and Mr. Longo won 2nd place in the best composer category. As the program continued, Longo introduced Hilary Gardner, vocalist, on “The Night We Called It A Day,” who has good pitch, a lovely soprano voice, and was backed in a melodic trumpet solo by Gary Guzio. The band also played well known standards like “Alone Together” (with a Latin beat), and an up tempo “Wee.”

Mike Longo invented a new term for the jazz lexicon — ‘neobop’ — to explain his band’s style. As the late great Dizzy Gillespie’s pianist and musical director for many years, Mr. Longo was subject to a cross fertilization of jazz, both the exciting Afro Cuban tradition of polyrhythms and musicians of different generations and national backgrounds. ‘Diz,’ a founder of bebop jazz, had an international band, the “United Nation” which played around the world, in keeping with his outlook on music and love of humanity. Gillespie joined the Baha’i religion, whose organization owns the building where the concert took place.

Longo’s production team includes Bob Magnuson, the lead alto player, who helps with administrative work along with producer Dottie Davis, and Angelo Sandy, the sound and lights technician. This has culminated in propelling the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble onto the international circuit, starting with European tours in April and July of 2004.

Longo is an all around veteran and star in the jazz world, with over four decades as a New York-based jazz pianist (with 17 albums under his own name). He hails from Cincinnati, where he began playing piano at age three; both of his parents were semi-professional musicians. When the family moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, he started playing boogie-woogie piano. At 15 he was working weekends with his dad’s band. Cannonball Adderly heard him play at a jam session and he started working the Southern “chittlin circuit.”

Longo got a BM in music at Western Kentucky State University in classical piano. He played at New York’s Metropole Cafe as the house pianist and worked with artists like Coleman Hawkins, Henry Red Allen, George Wettling, and Gene Krupa. He then studied with Oscar Peterson at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music. In addition, he has worked with many great singers — Nancy Wilson, Gloria Lynn, Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing and was the house pianist at the famed Embers club, backing acts such as Frank Foster, Lee Konitz, Frank Wess, Clark Terry, Zoot Sims and Roy Eldridge. His label, Consolidated Artists Productions (CAP, with label manager Lee Green) sells over 70 cd’s; he also has written and published nine books on music. His studies in classical counterpoint and composition with Frank Fields and Hall Overton led to commissions in 2002 by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra’s James Moody concert, and a three movement suite for the Detroit Symphony entitled “The World of Gillespie.”

“I wanted to create a new venue for musicians to work in New York,” Longo said. Future concerts will feature the Lionel Hampton All Stars, Joe Magnarelli, the John Clark Quartet, and Charlie Persip’s big band. Plans are also in the works to have public high school students gain exposure to jazz at special student concerts. The concert series will run on Tuesdays through the spring. They will feature groups such as Charlie Persip’s big band, Longo’s own New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble and selected small combos, with shows at 8:00 & 10:00 pm, at the John Birks Gillespie Auditorium, in the New York Baha’i Center, 53 E. 11th Street between University Place and Broadway. General admission is $15.00 and students are admitted for $10.00.


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