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PITTSBURGH JAZZ

 

From Blakey to Brown, Como to Costa, Eckstine to Eldridge, Galbraith to Garner, Harris to Hines, Horne to Hyman, Jamal to Jefferson, Kelly to Klook; Mancini to Marmarosa, May to Mitchell, Negri to Nestico, Parlan to Ponder, Reed to Ruther, Strayhorn to Sullivan, Turk to Turrentine, Wade to Williams… the forthcoming publication Treasury of Pittsburgh Jazz Connections by Dr. Nelson Harrison and Dr. Ralph Proctor, Jr. will document the legacy of one of the world’s greatest jazz capitals.

 

Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?

 

Some answers  can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.

 

For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.

 

Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.

 

WELCOME!

 

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Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin

    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

Mike Longo, Prominent Jazz Pianist Known For His Tenure with Dizzy Gillespie, Dies at 83

Mike Longo, Prominent Jazz Pianist Known For His Tenure with Dizzy Gillespie, Dies at 83

  MAR 23, 2020

Mike Longo, who led a distinguished jazz career as a pianist, composer and educator, notably as longtime musical director for Dizzy Gillespie, died on Sunday at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He was 83 and lived in New York.

The cause was COVID-19, confirmed Dorothy Longo, his wife of 32 years.

She said Longo was admitted to the hospital early Tuesday morning, and had preexisting medical conditions.

Longo is not the first jazz casualty of the coronavirus — that tragic distinction belongs to Argentine saxophonist Marcelo Peralta, who died in Madrid on March 10 — but his prominent stature and breadth of associations bring the tragedy much closer to home for the jazz community in New York.

“He was a consummate musician, a dedicated musician and instructor,” says bassist Paul West, whose close musical association with Longo started in 1968, when both were members of Gillespie’s working band.

Longo served as musical director of that band, which had a front line of Gillespie on trumpet and James Moody on saxophones and flute, from the late 1960s through the first half of the ‘70s, and intermittently for more than a decade after that. He appears on Gillespie’s live Impulse! album Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac, and several others, including Portrait of Jenny. Here is footage of the band from a concert in Copenhagen in ’68, playing a Longo original called “Ding-a-Ling.”

Longo had an extensive solo career as well, both in the swinging modern-jazz mainstream and in a funkier mode, on albums like The Awakening, released on the Mainstream label in 1972. Reviewing one of his early forays as a bandleader the following year, New York Times critic John S. Wilson observed that an acoustic trio format gave him room for shading and subtlety. “But whether he is playing blues, a Latin tempo or a ballad, there is always a compelling rhythmic sense underlying his attractive improvisations,” Wilson added.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 19, 1937, Michael Joseph Longo entered a musical family: his father was a bassist, and his mother played organ in church. He was barely past toddler age when he took up the piano; at four, he began studying with a teacher at the Cincinnati Conservatory.

Soon thereafter his family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he eventually played his first gigs in his father’s dance band, at 15. Around the same time, he attended a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert featuring virtuoso pianist Oscar Peterson, who instantly became a hero.

Years later, in his early 20s, Longo studied for six months at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music, which Peterson had established in Toronto; he later recalled this as “the most intense experience in my life, musically speaking.” What he learned from Peterson, he added in an interview with All About Jazz, was nothing less than “how to be a jazz pianist — textures, voicings, touch, time conception, tone on the instrument.”  

But Longo was no slouch even in his teens, when his playing caught the ear of alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who was then band director at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale. Adderley became a mentor and a source of work; when his regular pianist couldn’t make a gig at Porky’s, the Miami-area strip joint later immortalized in a 1980s teen romp, he asked Longo to fill in. (After securing his mother’s permission, he did. It was his first booking in a club.)

After earning a degree in classical piano at Western Kentucky State University, Longo began his jazz career in earnest, working with saxophonist and big band leader Hal McIntyre, Nashville guitar ace Hank Garland and others. Soon after he moved to New York City, he found steady work at the Metropole, playing traditional jazz with the likes of trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen.

Dizzy Gillespie and Mike Longo in 1973.
CREDIT COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Longo was working at the Embers West in Midtown Manhattan, as part of a house rhythm section, when Gillespie heard and promptly hired him. The depth of that association extended well beyond Longo’s tenure in the band; in 1980 he composed an orchestral piece called A World of Gillespie, which was first performed in New York by the Henry Street Settlement Symphony Orchestra, and then by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. (Gillespie was the soloist.)

West performed often in a duo or trio setting with Longo, especially in recent years. “We depended on each other, so to speak,” West says. “He depended on me to be supportive and in tune with his playing. So we played as if one person was playing two instruments.”

Mike Longo in 2014.
CREDIT COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

In addition to his wife, Longo is survived by his sister, Ellen Cohen, and many cousins, nieces, and nephews. 

If Longo had a flagship group, it was the 18-piece New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, which released a studio album called Explosion in 1999. The band was active as recently as March 10, when it performed in the John Birks Gillespie Auditorium at the New York City Baha’i Center.

The Baha’i faith was another commonality between Longo and Gillespie, and a source of deep simpatico. “I would say that the Baha’i faith was his moral and musical compass,” said Dorothy Longo, who has been in self-quarantine in her husband's apartment on Riverside Drive, after testing positive for the coronavirus herself.

“Because,” she went on, “the Baha’i faith promotes the unity of humankind.”

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THOSE WE’VE LOST

Mike Longo, Jazz Pianist, Composer and Educator, Dies at 83

Best known for his long association with Dizzy Gillespie, Mr. Longo, who died of the coronavirus, also led a big band and promoted the work of other musicians.

Mike Longo performing with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen in 1968. Mr. Longo’s association with Gillespie began in 1966 and endured until shortly before Gillespie’s death in 1993.
Mike Longo performing with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen in 1968. Mr. Longo’s association with Gillespie began in 1966 and endured until shortly before Gillespie’s death in 1993.Credit...Jan Persson/Getty Images

By 

  • Published March 28, 2020Updated March 30, 2020

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Mike Longo, a jazz pianist, composer and educator best known for his long association with the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, died on March 22 in Manhattan. He was 83.

The cause was the coronavirus, Dorothy Longo, his wife of 32 years, said.

As a musician and a composer, said Matthew Snyder, who had studied composition with Mr. Longo and played baritone saxophone with the big band he led, the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, Mr. Longo “was simultaneously very earthy and also had the highest possible level of harmony and melodicism and complexity in his musical conception.”

As an educator, Mr. Longo wrote 10 books and produced four DVDs, espousing concepts he had refined while working with Mr. Gillespie. He also advocated tirelessly for other artists, engaging them for concerts and releasing their recordings on CAP (Consolidated Artists Productions), which he had established as a publishing company in 1970 and a record label in 1981.

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“He took on other artists because he wanted them to have a forum to produce their own music and express their creativity,” Ms. Longo said in an email. “CAP is an umbrella organization whereby musicians produced and owned their own product, but if Mike chose to take them on, because of his reputation, he was able to get airplay and distribution.”


Born into a musical household, Mr. Longo played his first nightclub date, with the alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, while still in high school. After arriving in New York in 1960, he found work supporting musicians like the trumpeter Red Allen and the tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins at the Metropole, a Manhattan nightclub. A year later, he moved to Toronto to study with the pianist Oscar Peterson.

Returning to New York in 1962, Mr. Longo became an in-demand accompanist for singers including Nancy Wilson, Gloria Lynne and Joe Williams. In 1965 he led a house band at the New York nightclub Embers West, where he performed with a wide range of luminaries. A year later, Mr. Gillespie engaged him as his musical director and arranger, an association that would endure until 1975, and informally until shortly before Mr. Gillespie’s death in 1993.




Mr. Longo went on to perform and record solo, in duos and trios, and with the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, which he founded in 1998.


“Mike’s book was roughly split between his arrangements of other tunes and his original tunes,” Mr. Snyder said of Mr. Longo’s repertoire, “and it was obvious it was all the same thing for him; even his arrangements were recompositions.”

ImageMr. Longo was still with Mr. Gillespie when he released the album “Matrix” in 1972. He would continue to perform and would record prolifically as a bandleader, arranger and composer after leaving Mr. Gillespie’s band in 1975.
Mr. Longo was still with Mr. Gillespie when he released the album “Matrix” in 1972. He would continue to perform and would record prolifically as a bandleader, arranger and composer after leaving Mr. Gillespie’s band in 1975.

Michael Joseph Longo was born on March 19, 1937, in Cincinnati, to Michael Anthony Longo and Elvira Margaret (Vitello) Longo. He began to study piano with his mother, a homemaker who sang and played the piano and the organ, at age 3, starting formal lessons a year later. The family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where Mr. Longo’s father established a successful business supplying produce to stores and to restaurants while also leading bands in which he played bass.

Mr. Longo’s father hired Mr. Adderley, who was black, to play in his band at a time when racial mixing was uncommon and potentially perilous. Mr. Adderley in turn took young Mr. Longo under his wing, engaging him for church performances and, on one occasion, an engagement at Porky’s Hideaway, a Fort Lauderdale jazz club.

Mr. Longo studied classical piano at Western Kentucky University, graduating in 1959 with a B.A. in music. Offered a scholarship by the jazz magazine DownBeat, he opted instead to pursue his education on the road with a small combo, the Salt City Six, and then in New York. His studies with Mr. Peterson in Toronto, Mr. Longo recalled in a 2006 interview with the website All About Jazz, taught him “how to play piano and how to be a jazz pianist — textures, voicings, touch, time, conception, tone on the instrument.”

Mr. Longo studied composition privately with Hall Overton from 1970 to 1972 and worked prolifically as a bandleader, arranger and composer after leaving Mr. Gillespie’s employ. But his association with Mr. Gillespie would dominate much of his professional career, even offering him the opportunity to compose an orchestral work, “A World of Gillespie” (1980), which Mr. Gillespie performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

 

In addition to his wife, Mr. Longo is survived by a sister, Ellen.

Like Mr. Gillespie, Mr. Longo embraced the Baha’i faith, a religion that espouses the unity of all people and finds truth in multiple faith traditions. In 2004, he began leading weekly concerts at the New York City Baha’i Center in Greenwich Village. The last concert was on March 10.

Colleagues Mourn Death of Mike Longo

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Image

Mike Longo (1939–20120)

(Photo: Courtesy Consolidated Artists Productions)

Pianist Mike Longo, best known for his long tenure with Dizzy Gillespie’s band, died on March 22 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. His health was compromised by COVID-19, according to an article posted by WBGO. Longo also suffered from pre-existing medical conditions. He was 81.

As recently as 2017, Longo was leading three bands: the Mike Longo Trio, the 17-piece New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble and a sextet called the Mike Longo Funk Band. In addition to many recordings he put out as a bandleader, Longo’s discography included work with Astrud Gilberto, Lee Konitz, James Moody and Buddy Rich.

Born March 19, 1939, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Longo began formal piano lessons at age 4 at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. After his family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, he continued his piano studies, later winning a local talent contest at age 12.

In a 2017 press release, Longo described his vivid memory of hearing Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie for the first time on radio station WFTL. “I wanted to wake up my parents and tell ’em,” he said. “It changed my whole life around.”

In 10th grade, Longo began performing club dates around the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area in his bass-playing father’s band, which included a then-unknown alto saxophone player named Cannonball Adderley, who at the time was band director at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale.

It was the younger Longo who recommended that his father hire Adderley. “My dad had a gig playing for the Gateway Shopping Center,” Longo recalled in the press release. “Cannonball walked up on the bandstand, and a hush came over the audience ’cause they had never seen a mixed band. Cannonball started playing ‘Stars Fell On Alabama,’ and he just melted everybody’s hearts.”

Longo soon became a protégé of Adderley, who recruited the teenager for jazz and r&b gigs in Florida.

After earning a bachelor of music degree from Western Kentucky University, Longo embarked on a two-year stint on the road with a band called the Salt City Six. He later became the house pianist at the Metropole Cafe in New York, where he backed such jazz luminaries as Henry Red Allen, Cozy Cole, Coleman Hawkins, Gene Krupa and George Wettling.

In 1961, at age 24, Longo studied for six months with the legendary pianist Oscar Peterson at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto. In 1962, he released Jazz Portrait Of Funny Girl, a trio session on his own Clamike Records label that featured bassist Herman Wright and drummer Roy Brooks.

Longo subsequently did a stint of roadwork with host of singers, including Nancy Wilson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Gloria Lynn, Joe Williams and Jimmy Rushing before joining bassist Sam Jones for duets at The Hickory House.

By 1966, Longo’s trio with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Chuck Lampkin had become the house band at The Embers West in New York, where they backed the likes of Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Frank Foster, Zoot Sims and Roy Eldridge. It was at The Embers that Longo was spotted by Gillespie. “Dizzy called me the next day and hired me,” he told Jazz Central in an interview posted on his website. “I worked with him nine years straight, full-time, and for the rest of his life on a part-time basis.”

From 1966 to 1975, Longo was musical director for Gillespie, appearing on the 1967 Impulse! classic, Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac, 1968’s Reunion Big Band and Portrait Of Jenny and The Real Thingboth from 1970.

Reflecting on how he was Gillespie’s close collaborator, Longo said in the press release, “I had to do the hiring sometimes and the firing sometimes, and calling rehearsals and writing the music and that kind of thing.”

Longo later played piano in the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, and in 1986 he was commissioned by Gillespie to compose a piece for full symphony orchestra, which the trumpeter performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 1991. Longo was with Gillespie on the night he died, Jan. 6, 1993, and later delivered a eulogy at his funeral.

Longo led sessions for the Mainstream, P-Vine and Pablo labels through the 1970s before forming his own label, Consolidated Artists Productions. His leader dates on CAP include 1981’s Solo Recital, 1990’s The Earth Is But One Country, I Miss You John (a 1997 Gillespie tribute album), 1998’s Dawn Of A New Day and 2000’s Explosion by the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble.

The label has released more than 150 titles, including works by Beegie Adair, Bill Anschell, John Di Martino, Falkner Evans, Rob Garcia, Annie Ross and Rich Willey.

Longo recorded two other big band projects—2001’s Aftermath and 2004’s Oasis—before recording 2007’s Float Like A Butterfly with bassist Paul West and drummer Jimmy Wormworth and 2009’s Sting Like A Bee with bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Lewis Nash.

The 2012 release A Celebration Of Diz And Miles was recorded live with West and drummer Ray Mosca at the John Birks Gillespie Auditorium in the New York City Baha’i Center, where he had hosted a weekly jazz series beginning in 2004.

In 2017, Longo recorded the trio album Only Time Will Tell with West and drummer Lewis Nash. The program’s original composition “Stepping Up” was inspired by the terraces on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, close to the world headquarters of the Baha’i Faith, of which Longo was a member.

Survivors include his wife, Dorothy Longo, who reportedly is in self-quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Saxophonist Bob Magnuson, who co-founded the New York State of the Arts Jazz Ensemble with Longo, posted a tribute to his friend on Facebook: “For 25 years he allowed me into his wonderful world and let me produce six CDs with his best friends James Moody, Jimmy Owens, Bob Cranshaw, Paul West, Ray Mosca and Lewis Nash. He then included me in a sextet with Randy Brecker, Ron Carter and Joe Farrell, playing music he had recorded in the ’60s. I went fishing with him for years and loved to hear his endless stories of being Dizzy’s closest friend. I realized early on that he understood, digested, taught and lived by all the concepts of time, depth of groove, swing, harmony and all the metaphysical aspects that embodied Dizzy. Nobody knew Dizzy’s stuff the way Longo did.”

Guitarist Adam Rafferty—who studied with Longo and recorded with him on his own CAP leader dates First Impressions (1997) and Blood, Sweat & Bebop (1999)—posted this entry on Facebook: “This man was my beloved guru and second father. To say he was a music teacher doesn’t do it justice. He was the one I called several times a day for personal and spiritual guidance. He took me under his wing and mentored me. He was a beacon of truth and light, and a best friend.” DB

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