Mike Longo is best-known as a reliable and versatile player who was the pianist with Dizzy Gillespie during 1966-1973. Longo was born in Cincinnati and began playing piano at age three thanks to his church organist mother and part-time professional jazz bass-playing father. The family moved to Florida, where Mike, at age 15, began working with his father’s band on weekends. Cannonball Adderly heard Mike and soon they were playing the Southern “chittlin’ circuit” together. Longo earned his Bachelor of Music degree in classical piano at Western Kentucky State University.
During those years, he went on the road with the Hal McIntyre Orchestra one summer and also played with legendary guitarist Hank Garland in Nashville. Longo toured for two years with the Salt City Six. After the group played at New York’s Metropole Cafe, the band left, but Mike stayed on as the house pianist playing with such jazz notables as Coleman Hawkins, Henry Red Allen, George Wettling, Gene Krupa and many others.
After the Chicago stint studying with Peterson, Longo moved permanently to New York City which led to opportunities to work with many great singers — Nancy Wilson, Gloria Lynn, Jimmy Witherspoon, Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing and others. Longo did an extended stay at Embers West with bassist Paul Chambers accompanying acts such as Frank Foster, Lee Konitz, Frank Wess, Clark Terry, Zoot Sims and Roy Eldridge. In addition, over the years Mike has performed on albums by Dizzy Gillespie, Astrud Gilberto, James Moody, Buddy Rich, Lee Konitiz and numerous others.
While Mike was with Dizzy, the band recorded many tunes penned by Longo such as “Frisco,” “Let Me Out,” “Soul Kiss” and “The Truth.” Longo started his own recording career in the early Sixties and now has 19 albums to his credit (three of them with his big band, the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble). Mike Longo also is a renowned music teacher, has helped many jazz players with private instruction, and has written nine music textbooks, primarily on jazz improvisation.
But this jazz master has never stopped his own studies, constantly searching and learning, open to new ideas, and freely exploring deeper into the subtleties and nuances found in the world of jazz. When the floating butterfly spreads its wings, it’s a thing of beauty.