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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2009/12/29
by Mike Gruenberg

Mike Longo

In My Life

Everyone should have a mentor or two in their lives. For whatever the profession, whatever the endeavor a person chooses for their life’s work, a personal mentor/coach/teacher, while not a necessity, is certainly preferable to help one learn and get through the rough spots of our daily travails. Relating life experiences by one who has experienced the same issues as you are and combining those lessons learned with study and good old fashioned hard work as seen by a teacher advising a student who is willing to learn is invaluable.

A number of years ago, when I interviewed Alex Skolnick, the great heavy metal guitarist turned jazz virtuoso, Alex mentioned that a person who helped and taught him the intricacies needed to assist him to become an accomplished jazz musician was guitar legend, Joe Satriani. Joe came along at a time for Alex to give him musical direction and purpose when he needed a mentor. Given Alex’s god-given talents, he probably would have figured it out on his own, but with Joe’s guidance, the process of learning became that much more exciting and efficient.

Rock musician Steve Miller, whose Greatest Hits album has sold more than 14 million copies to date (in addition to all his other hit records), was schooled by the late Les Paul Les was a friend of Steve’s family. Steve was only five years old when Les realized that this young boy had remarkable musical talents. He remained a fixture in Steve’s life for many years as a friend and mentor. By the way, Les Paul was not only his teacher, but also Steve’s godfather.

So when I received an album to review called “Sting Like A Bee” by the Mike Longo Trio, I found out that Mike’s first mentor and teacher was the great jazz musician, Oscar Peterson, Mike writes in the liner notes of the album that Oscar invited him to his home recording studio in Toronto in the 1960’s to watch the Oscar Peterson Trio record their famous West Side Story album. This was an incredible learning experience for a young musician whose career in music was just beginning. Oscar encouraged Mike to enroll with him at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music, an institution that taught musicians about playing jazz. This schooling involved many hours of practicing and private lessons with Peterson. Highly intense school work during the day, while working musical dates at night to help pay for the lessons was Mike’s life at that time. The lessons learned from that period of time shaped Mike’s musical knowledge and skill.

Mike also mentions that his other great mentor was Dizzy Gillespie. Mike had the incredible opportunity to tour and perform with Dizzy Gillespie’s band for 25 years. With mentors like Dizzy and Oscar, Mike has certainly been schooled by the best in the business. For Skolnick, Miller and Longo, their mentors gave them a good basis of “life knowledge” in addition to the musical tutelage that helped shape their incredibly successful musical careers.

Upon hearing Mike Longo’s album for the first time, there is certain spontaneity to his music that makes it a most pleasant and listenable experience. The other musicians, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Lewis Nash on drums easily complement Mike’s keyboard styling’s. The album is as close to a “live” recording as possible since most of the songs were completed in one take. Oddly enough, Bob, Lewis and Mike had never played together on an album as a trio before except for one rehearsal in preparing for “Sting Like A Bee”. However, listening to this album, you could swear that these guys have been playing as a unit for many years. They blend together beautifully. And the more you listen, the more comfortable you become with it. If there was a definition in the dictionary for a perfect album showcasing a jazz trio, a picture of this album would have to be inserted.

According to Mike “Bob and Lewis are both from the same ‘polymetric school’ of playing where you can have more than one meter going on at the same time, With them there is a contrapuntal perfection between the musicians, plus great interaction.”

In a tribute to Oscar Peterson, “Westside Story Medley” is one of the songs done by the band on this album. For any show tune aficionados, who also like jazz this eight minute medley is wonderful recapture of the memories associated with the Leonard Bernstein West Side story songbook.

There are also three original songs written by Mike on the album to go along with tunes written by such music luminaries as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Cole Porter and Kurt Weill.

Having played with and learned from Dizzy Gillespie for 25 years, Mike credits much of his musicianship to the lessons learned on the road and the studio with “Diz”. In a tribute to his teacher, mentor and friend, Mike rounds out the album with a Dizzy Gillespie composition called “Kush”.

“Sting Like A Bee” is a follow-up to a previously recorded 2007 release, “Float Like A Butterfly” album. This the 20th album recorded by Mike Longo, although his resume of working and recording with other jazz artist reads like a who’s who list of the best jazz artists of the past thirty years. If I were casting a movie and the scene called for musical background for a late night rendezvous in a quiet bar in Greenwich Village, any tune by the Mike Long Trio off this album would work perfectly.

To all, here’s wishing everyone a happy & healthy new year.
May 2010 be filled with good times, good friends and most of all, good sounds.

Peace & Love

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