Mike Longo  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Michael Josef Longo (March 19, 1937 – March 22, 2020) was an American pianist, composer, and author, known for compositions as "Like a Thief In the Night" (1974, from 900 Shares Of The Blues).


Early life

Longo was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He came from a musical background. His father played bass, his mother played organ at church, and his music training began at a young age. Mike recalled seeing Sugar Child Robinson playing boogie woogie piano: "The first time I saw him, man, he knocked me out. I must have been three or four years old. He played after the Count Basie show, so I went home and started picking out boogie woogie bass lines." His parents took him for formal lessons at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music at four. He moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida soon after. At the age of 12 he won a local talent contest.


Longo's career started in his father's band, but later Cannonball Adderley helped him get gigs of his own. Their working relationship began before Adderley was well known as a band leader. Adderley approached the teenaged Longo because he needed a pianist at his church. At this time the town was largely segregated, so the white Longo playing at a black church was unusual. When this led to recordings with Adderley in the mid-1950s, Longo was too young to go to clubs with him. Longo played at Porky's, which was later portrayed in the movie. He would go on to receive his Bachelor of Music degree from Western Kentucky University.

Dizzy Gillespie heard Longo at the Metropole. "I was playing downstairs with Red Allen, and Dizzy was playing upstairs with his band. So every time he wanted to go outside for a break, he had to come down the stairs and pass us on the way out. There was a joint across the street called the Copper Rail, which was a soul food restaurant and a bar where the musicians from the Metropole would all hang out. Soon I learned Dizzy mentioned me in an interview in International Musician, the musician union's magazine, when he was asked about any promising young musicians he'd heard." He was a fan of Oscar Peterson from a young age and he studied with the master pianist from 1961-1962. "In terms of technique, touch, I was playing with locked wrists and too much arm technique. The main thing I got from Peterson was how to play piano and how to be a jazz pianist- textures, voicings, touch, time, conception, tone on the instrument."

In the 1960s, Longo began to lead the Mike Longo Trio, which would remain active for the next 42 years. Gillespie was playing at the Metropole again and Longo, depressed after divorcing his first wife, had just gotten a gig at Embers West playing with Roy Eldridge. Eldridge brought Gillespie to see Longo playing with Paul Chambers. Gillespie hired Longo the next day. Longo became musical director for the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet and later Gillespie chose him to be the pianist for the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band. From 1966 onward his music career would be linked to Gillespie's. In 1993 Longo was with Gillespie on the night he died and later delivered a eulogy at his funeral.

Longo performed at weekly jazz sessions held at the Baháʼí center in honor of Gillespie, a tradition he helped start. Like Gillespie he was a member of the Baháʼí Faith. Longo also taught a master class to upcoming jazz musicians including Adam Rafferty, Nate Andersen, and John Austria. Longo's big band, the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, plays at the center intermittently and provides upcoming musicians a chance to learn on stage and the audience receives a jazz experience at reasonable cost. A big part of Mike Longo's mission was to re-establish the apprenticeship relationship in teaching jazz. He said "I know jazz education is an important thing and I know that the field means well, but there seems to be a trend in that field to teach jazz where people are actually copying off recordings instead of actually learning to play jazz. The apprenticeship aspect of jazz has always been the way it has evolved."

Awards and honors

Mike Longo received a scholarship from the Ft. Lauderdale Symphony Orchestra in 1955, a Downbeat Hall of Fame Scholarship in 1959, and a National Endowment for the Arts Grant in 1972. He was inducted into Western Kentucky University's Wall of Fame in 2002.


Longo died on March 23, 2020 at the age of 83 from complications of COVID-19.


As leader/co-leader

  • A Jazz Portrait of Funny Girl (Clamike, 1962)
  • The Awakening (Mainstream, 1972)
  • Matrix (Mainstream, 1972)
  • Funkia (Groove Merchant, 1974)
  • 900 Shares of the Blues (Groove Merchant, 1974)
  • Talk with the Spirits (Pablo, 1976)
  • Jazzberry Patch (JPB, 1977)
  • Solo Recital (Consolidated Artists, 1981)
  • The Earth Is But One Country (Consolidated Artists, 1990)
  • I Miss You John (Consolidated Artists, 1995)
  • New York '78 (Consolidated Artists, 1996)
  • Dawn of a New Day (Consolidated Artists, 1997)
  • Live Detroit International Jazz Festival (Consolidated Artists, 2003)
  • To My Surprise (Consolidated Artists, 2011)
  • Live from New York! (Consolidated Artists, 2013)

As sideman

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Lee Konitz

Other publications

  • A nine part series of lectures by Longo was started in 1976 with Systematic Harmonic Substitution.

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