Mike Longo began his professional career at the age of fifteen in South Florida where he began working with his fathers club date band around the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area. He actually began playing piano at the age of three in Cincinnati, Ohio his birthplace. By the age of four the family took him to the Cincinnati Conservatory where he began formal lessons with a teacher. The family later moved to Ft. Lauderdale when he was at a very early age where he grew up and began playing boogie woogie piano. His professional career took roots after winning a local talent contest at the age of twelve.
Longo went to a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert while in the 9th grade and heard Oscar Peterson who immediately became his idol. Cannonball Adderley, who was a band director in a local high school at the time, heard Longo at a jam session and became interested in the young pianist. The two became friends and the elder Longo hired Cannonball to work some gigs with his club date band. Later, Cannonball got Longo a gig with a R&B band that he was working with and the pianist began playing up and down the east coast of Florida on what was known at the time as “the chittlin’ circuit”. The older Adderley began coaching the younger musician and later hired him to play with his quartet at the famed Porky’s that was depicted in the movies of the same name in the 70′s.
After graduation from high school, Longo attended college at Western Kentucky State University where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in classical piano. During his stay there he went on the road with the famed Hal McIntyre orchestra during one summer and played with legendary guitarist Hank Garland in Nashville’s famous Printers Alley as well. During his senior year of college, Longo won the Downbeat Magazine Hall of Fame Scholarship to Berklee School of Music when a fellow student submitted a tape recording of his playing to the magazine. Longo declined the scholarship and upon graduation hit the road as a full time professional jazz musician. During his two year stint with a band called the Salt City Six, he was booked into New York’s Metropole Cafe. When the band left, Longo stayed at the Metropole as a house pianist. It was there that he worked with such jazz notables as Henry Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins, George Wettling, Gene Krupa and many others.
While at the Metropole, trumpeter Jimmy McPartland of the Austin High Gang fame, hired him to go to Chicago to do a two week stint at a club called Bourbon Street. While there, Longo met his early idol Oscar Peterson who was playing Chicago’s London House. Peterson invited Longo to his hotel suite where Longo played for him. As a result, Longo was invited to study with Peterson at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto, a school for jazz musicians run by Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. Longo spent the next six months in what he would later refer to as “the most intense period of study in my life.”
Upon completion of his studies with Peterson, Longo returned to New York where he took up residence. He went on the road with Nancy Wilson which began a period of work with many legendary singers such as Gloria Lynn, Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing and others. This was followed by a period where he worked around the New York area with bassist Sam Jones in many duo settings as well as with his own trio in places like Basin St. East, The Hickory House, The New York Playboy Club where he stayed for a whole year, and the Embers where he became the house trio for an extended period of time. It was while playing at the Embers that Dizzy Gillespie first heard him. Dizzy, who was the featured attraction, heard Longo during his breaks and was to remark in later years that he had decided he wanted Mike to be on his group during that engagement. The opportunity didn’t arrive until two years later.
It was 1966 and Longo was booked into the Embers West on 49th St. in Manhattan. His trio at the time consisted of Paul Chambers on bass and Chuck Lampkin on drums. The trio became a house rhythm section there and during this period Mike played with such jazz greats as Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Clark Terry, Zoot Sims and the legendary Roy Eldridge. It was Roy who went around the corner to where Dizzy was playing and told Dizzy “you got to come by and hear this piano player who is playing with me.” Dizzy came by and heard Mike play a set with his trio and the next day hired him to be the new pianist with the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, a post Mike would remain in for the next nine years.
During his first year with Dizzy, Mike began writing material for the group and Dizzy eventually appointed him as his musical director. A close bond of friendship as well as musical collaborator developed between the two which lasted until Gillespie’s death in 1993.
Mike left the Gillespie group officially in 1975 to venture out on his own but still worked with Dizzy on a part time basis for the next sixteen years often writing for him as well as playing with him on several occasions. In 1986, Longo was commissioned by Gillespie to compose a piece for full symphony orchestra which was performed by Gillespie in 1993 with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. As a composer and arranger, Mike has been also tapped by James Moody (his band mate with Gillespie). He is featured as composer/arranger on three of his recordings as well as a commision from the San Diego Symphony Orchestra for music that was performed by Moody in a July of 2002 concert.
Since that time Mike has recorded several albums and CD’s on various labels with some 45 recordings with various artists like Gillespie, James Moody and many others. He, at present, has 19 solo albums to his credit. For five years Longo hosted a local cable TV show in Manhattan called Jazz Perspectives.
He now appears with his trio at festival and club venues world wide which are documented in his extensive resume. In 1998, he formed the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, an 18 piece big band, made up of the top musicians in New York. They have been featured in both 1998 and 1999 at the Jersey Jazz Festival and on June 23, 1999, made their New York debut to a packed house at Birdland. Their first CD, “Explosion” was released in the fall of 2000. It made the Gavin air play charts and remained there for 18 weeks. Longo recorded the band again in 2001 on a CD called “Aftermath.” This, like “Explosion,” received wide critical acclaim and again made the Yellow Dog Jazz Charts. It was listed in the number one position of the top 10 CDs of 2001 in the Brazilian jazz poll. Mike was also voted number two, behind Dave Brubeck, in the same poll for composer of the year. A Mike Longo Trio CD called “Still Swingin” was released in January of 2002 and received wide recognition in the press including a feature in Billboard Magazine. It remained on the jazz charts for several weeks eventually occupying the #11 position. It ended the year in the 78th position for the top 100 CDs of the year 2002. This CD also occupied the number one position in the Brazilian jazz poll’s top 10 CDs of the year 2002. A new CD called “The Mike Longo Trio – Live” from the 2002 Detroit International Jazz Festival was released on February 1st, 2003. It also hit the national jazz charts and remained there for several weeks. At the beginning of 2004, Mike created a concert series at the NYC Baha’i center and caused the 140 seat theater there to be renamed The John Birks Gillespie Auditorium after his late mentor Dizzy Gillespie. Aside from it being a home base for the NY State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, his big band, he began booking other world class jazz acts there on a weekly basis with concerts every Tuesday night. In October of 2004 a new CD called “Oasis” was released, once again with the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, received much critical acclaim occupying the #7 position on the Jazz Week national chart. The band was subsequently voted the #1 band of the year in the Brazilian Jazz Poll with Mike winning the #2 spot for pianist of the year. Mike was also voted #2 for composer and #3 for arranger of the year in the same poll.
“Float Like a Butterfly”, was released in 2007 as a piano trio venture and remained on the charts for an unprecedented number of weeks garnering some 7000 + spins to date. It was featured in the April 2008 issue of Hot House Magazine and was reviewed and featured in the July 2008 issue of All About Jazz Magazine. In October of 2009 a sequel to this was released in the form of a CD entitled “Sting Like A Bee.” As of this writing it is presently in the number 10 position of the Jazz it Week Chart and climbing. For the past two weeks it has occupied the number one position on the Music Choice Chart and continues to garner rave reviews in most jazz publications and internet sites. In 2012
a concert at the John Birks Gillespie Auditorium by the Mike Longo Trio honoring Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Fortunatly this concert was recorded and released on a CD called “A Celebration of Diz and Miles.” As a result of this CD Mike has received an avalanch of rave reviews in the press as well as winning first place in the piano category of the 2012 South American Jazz Poll. Further, Jazz Times Magazine, in its 2013 Jan/Feb issue ran a feature article on Mike Longo titles “Overdue Ovation.” At the present time, Mike continues to perform with his trio and/or big band at clubs and festivals world wide. He also runs a weekly jazz concert series in New York City at a theatre called “The John Birks Gillespie Auditorium” which was initiated by Mike in 2004 in honor of Dizzy Gillespie. The theater is located in the New York City Baha’i Center and was named after Gillespie, who was a Baha’i. Concerts in his honor are performed there every Tuesday evening.
“This record is like finding gold in the jazz market place. It gets no better. 5 stars”…John Gilbert-EjazzNews
“A Celebration of Diz and Miles” is a work of unique art by pianist Mike Longo”…John Shelton Ivany/National News Bureau