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Between Sets with Mike Longo

Uplifting and vibrant is this "Oasis" of rhythmic jazz. Mike Longo and Consolidated Artists Productions have put forth another extraordinary piece of musical delights to add to the jazz culture. Released in 2004, Longo and the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble capture the many faces, moods, and inner emotions of what jazz should be to the listener with such creations as The Godfather, Bag of Bones, and Lazy Afternoon. Longo is not a complex man but one with such insight and pure intensity, it's hard to fathom a mediocre effort ever produced by this artist. With 17 pieces on "Oasis," the arrangements are uniquely fresh and purposely innovative, to keep the audience attention level peaked!

To sum it up, just push play and Oasis speaks for itself. As for Longo, he speaks with passion on many different levels, all very intriguing and engaging, but mostly entertaining.

JAZZREVIEW: You portray Oasis as a "contrapuntal music with a forward propelling melodic force." Please expand on that?

MIKE LONGO: It means that it maintains a linear or horizontal flow of melodic lines that are in a contrapuntal relationship with each other simultaneously. A sort of motion against non-motion idea so that when one melody is at rest, another takes over and they trade off with each other. At other times one melody may be moving in slow note values while another is running against it at a faster speed. This interplay between melodic lines insures that there is always a melodic force occurring someplace to keep the music moving forward.

JAZZREVIEW: What does Oasis offer to the listener?

MIKE LONGO: Hopefully a joyous musical experience, one that will bring them back to it for repeated listening.

JAZZREVIEW: What stands out in your mind with Oasis?

MIKE LONGO: An opportunity to expand and tap the compositional and orchestrational side of myself as well as to provide a vehicle for passing on to the members of the band some of the knowledge and experience I have been fortunate enough to have picked up from the masters. This particular project took us in some new directions as far as a different pocket from the previous two CDs we made, as well as a different approach to the rhythmic behavior and interplay between the soloists and the ensemble parts. One of the striking things that stands out in my mind is also the energy and spirit that the guys played with.

JAZZREVIEW: Clarify to us the "Godfather" inspiration.

MIKE LONGO: Actually I had seen the film "When We Were Kings," which was the story of the Ali/Forman fight in Zaire, Africa. There was a segment in the film that showed a party where James Brown was performing with his band and man, they were gettin' down. About a month later, I was practicing late at night and I happened to think of James Brown and this musical motif popped into my head that reminded me of him. I jotted the idea down on paper and noticed that the bass line that fit it was falling in between the beats and sort of in the cracks. I immediately went to my studio and put the idea on a musical score for a big band and started to develop the tune and arrangement called "The Godfather."

JAZZREVIEW: Illustrate the inspiration that birthed "The Bags of Bones" cut.

MIKE LONGO: This you may find very interesting. I always tell people about the strange way Diz would teach all of us things. I remember in the late 60s when we were playing opposite Miles group at the Village Gate and Dizzy walked up to Moody and me and handed me this piece of paper with some notes on it and said, "Did you ever see this rhythm?" and then just walked away. I couldn't make heads or tails of it and neither could Moody. It was an eighth note triplet that started on the "and" of one.

About 20 years later I started thinking about it, and I finally figured out how to play it, and it had the most profound effect on my time and phrasing. I thought, "So that's what he meant!" Then when I was writing the music for Oasis, I thought of that rhythm and put the notes for the opening phrase of Bag of Bones on it and the whole piece of music just unfolded. After I had it down on paper and listened to it in my head it reminded me of a groove that I had heard Milt Jackson play that was a definitive part of his style and concept so I named the tune after him.

JAZZREVIEW: Who impacted your personal development? How?

MIKE LONGO: First and foremost, I would have to say my parents. I was fortunate enough to have had a solid spiritually based upbringing. Both my parents were musical and so I was hearing good music, and particularly jazz, around the house. I began playing by ear at the age of three and by the age of four my parents had arranged for me to begin formal training with a teacher from the Cincinnati Conservatory. At this point my father became very important in that he had a club date band and started using me to play piano with him and I had an opportunity to cut my teeth, so to speak, in a professional setting.

As I became more interested in jazz I began listening intensely to recordings and late night radio and I went to "Jazz at the Philharmonic" concert and heard Oscar Peterson. He immediately became an idol to me and I began trying to emulate him. Eventually I came in contact with Cannonball Adderley who was a high school band director in the area and I played with him in a jam session. I was totally blown away by him and told my father about him. My father began using him on some of his gigs and Cannon started to get me on some of the gigs in his musical circles. That had a profound influence on my choice to play jazz as a career and life. It was during this period that I heard Dizzy play something on a radio broadcast that struck me in a strange way and made me realize that he had tapped into some sort of rhythmic and melodic behavior that I found profoundly fascinating. It had the effect of changing my life and musical perspective from that day forward.

Later, while playing a gig in Chicago, I met Oscar Peterson who heard me play and asked me if I would like to study with him. I jumped at the chance and went to Toronto to spend six months of intense study that included thirteen-hour days of practice. I returned to NYC from studying with Oscar, I formed a trio and found a manager by the name of Milt Gray who had been Buddy DeFranco’s manager for years. He got me the gig with Nancy Wilson and it was the beginning of a slew of gigs with several great jazz singers who also had an impact on my development. I also began playing duo gigs with Sam Jones on bass that contributed greatly to my development. As time went on Milt started to get me booked with my own trio as an intermission group in clubs like Basin Street East and the Embers East, as well as a few headliner spots in the Hickory House and spots like that.

Two years later when I was playing a club called The Embers West, my bassist at that point was Paul Chambers and he also had a profound effect on my musical development. It was at this point that Diz came by to listen to the trio one night and called me the next day and hired me to be his pianist. Diz then became my total inspiration and his mentoring of me had the biggest impact on my further development. I would have to say that my eventual embracing of the Baha'i Faith played a huge role in my personal development and continues to do so until this day. I would have to mention my beautiful wife Dorothy who without her moral and spiritual influence on me as well as her unwavering support I would not have had the stability to do what I have done with my music.

JAZZREVIEW: You declared that apprenticeship in Jazz is all but exhausted. What would it take to revitalize that effort? How can musicians do their part in the effort?

MIKE LONGO: As far as "revitalizing" goes, I don't have an immediate answer to that since once the generations of musicians were passed over that would have contributed to the continuation of that process, it would seem next to impossible to go back and recapture it. This is not to say that some future events may transpire, that we are unaware of, and a new movement could start up that will reinvent this process similar to what happened in the Be Bop era. I guess having some of the surviving musicians play concerts in conjunction with clinics is another way that could help in this area as well. I would have to say that it was extremely important for my own musical development to play night after night, for several years, with a master like Dizzy while falling on my behind several times and having him show me how to pick myself up and overcome the difficulties that put me there. This is the kind of apprenticeship that has been lost. I have also written nine books as an attempt to pass on some of the information I have gleaned over the years to the younger players. I am presently working on a book called "The Rhythmic Nature of Jazz" in which I chronologically report all the things I learned from Dizzy about rhythm in the order that I learned them. Hopefully this will have a positive impact on the questions you raised.

JAZZREVIEW: What needs to transform to make this all happen?

MIKE LONGO: Musicians need to be able to win the battle between themselves and their own egos. They need to digest the tradition and then evolve it to the next level. This requires that they dedicate themselves to their music and become willing to do the work that it takes to go on with the next stage of development within them. They need to realize that there is something much deeper than the "notes" involved with jazz and explore what that is. For example a young musician who learns Charlie Parker's melodic ideas and turns them into "licks" that he or she regurgitates must ask themselves the question, "Whose licks was Charlie Parker playing?" The obvious answer would be that he wasn't playing licks. Apparently he was doing something else to produce what he played. It is that "something else" that the younger players must focus on and seek out.

The educators need to realize that their focus has to become HOW to play and not so much WHAT to play. At this point in time their focus is primarily centered on the notes and the copying of melodic clichés from recordings. They seem to miss the idea of a "concept" that produced the notes in the first place. For instance, it is not beneficial for a young person to play a Charlie Parker solo if he is playing it with the time conception with which Mozart's music is played. There is a specific kind of touch involved in playing jazz that is absolutely essential to it. This is entirely overlooked in the jazz education field and frankly I'm not sure if anyone knows how to teach it.

It evolves from African drumming and a certain rhythmic principle of poly metric time that produces it. If one learns this conception it is possible to make a drum talk so to speak. That talking drum concept is on other instruments and is primarily an integral part of what produces the tone on the solos being copied from recordings. There is such a thing as jazz technique but at this point in time the word technique is thought of as meaning velocity and speed on an instrument. For example, one may develop the technique to play Chopin Etudes, which is excellent for mastering an instrument. If this is not coupled with jazz technique, however, it can produce the wrong concept when playing jazz. Consequently you get music that sounds like the notes from jazz and may be played with dazzling technique but does not reach people on a gut feeling level or in their body rhythm.

Another area is the area of taste. The copying and memorizing of solos and clichés from recordings presently approach this. It is not enough for a young player to observe what a master played on a recording if he doesn't understand why he played it or what caused him to play it. A typical example would be a piano student who learns a note for note rendition of an Art Tatum recording. Well, I guess one could say that is admirable in itself but I would say that if it stops there, that musician is merely trying to BE ART TATUM, which of course is impossible, instead of to BE AS GOOD AS ART TATUM WAS. This would involve saying to one's self, Art had an exquisite touch-I have to have an exquisite touch. Art's time was beyond reproach-my time must be beyond reproach. Point made.

JAZZREVIEW: New projects under way?

MIKE LONGO: Well, I have been toying with the idea of making a new CD that is half with a trio and half with a quintet with trumpet and tenor. However, I must say that since the Oasis project was completed I have had a new musical breakthrough or revelation about some different types of rhythmic and melodic behavior and so I have been tossing around some ideas inspired by that, to write new material for the big band. This would send us in a new direction once again from what we did on Oasis.

JAZZREVIEW: Do you see growth within yourself as each project unfolds itself? What is your ultimate goal?

MIKE LONGO: I see each project unfolding as a direct result of growth within myself. My ultimate goal is to continue this process of growth within myself and then see the fruition of it expressed in the latest projects. Also, one of my favorite things to do is to create music that brings joy and happiness to the people who listen to it.

Dizzy Gillespie once uttered that creating music was to give it. Longo has again confirmed this very philosophy. For again, his unselfish talents have set forth quality and inspiring creations from the within the man, into our lives.

Karl Stober is an international freelance columnist and broadcaster who can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Karl can also be reached at 1-802-380-6065.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mike Longo
  • Interview Date: 11/1/2004
  • Subtitle: Oasis
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