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Full House On Record For Pianist

September 08, 1987|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

LA JOLLA — One recent weekend, there was more activity in and around the upstairs bar at Vic's Restaurant in La Jolla than the normally sedate jazz nightclub has known in a long time, perhaps ever.

Crowded in front of the tiny stage were smartly dressed business types in sofa sectionals, aging beatniks in chairs that had been brought up from the dining room, and a young guy in a wheelchair.

They were all snapping their fingers, tapping their feet, nodding their heads and clinking their glasses.

Meanwhile, in a mango-colored van parked outside, engineer Ralph Pitt was fiddling with the controls of his portable 24-track recording console and watching the action inside the club on a 21-inch video monitor.

A few hours before showtime, he had carefully miked each instrument on stage--the grand piano, the stand-up bass, and every tom and cymbal in the drum kit--and set up an additional microphone toward the back of the room to capture the crowd noise.

The reason for all this commotion, this excitement, this activity, was the first San Diego appearance in nearly 20 years of Michael Longo, who for nine years was Dizzy Gillespie's pianist, composer and arranger.

It isn't often that an internationally acclaimed jazz artist of Longo's caliber performs at a local club like Vic's, much less with the intent of recording a live album.

But here he was, a man who while still in high school was discovered by Charlie Parker disciple Julian (Cannonball) Adderley, a man who studied privately with Oscar Peterson, a man with 10 solo albums to his credit on such prestigious jazz labels as Mainstream and Pablo.

Here he was, not only playing, but recording , at Vic's. Quite clearly, it was an event few San Diego jazz fans dared miss.

"This is a dream come true," said Ann Williams, a veteran jazz singer who now lives in San Diego and who helped arrange the recording session.

"To be able to work together, to bring quality jazz to San Diego, and to get a major artist to actually record an album in this city--it's just incredible."

"Go to any record store and you'll find albums of jazz at the Lighthouse, jazz at the Keystone, jazz at nearly every major jazz club in every major city.

"So why not jazz at Vic's? Get San Diego on the map, man!"

Sitting on stage behind the grand piano, with his back to the crowd, Longo, 47, played mostly be-bop interpretations of such standards as Charlie Parker's "Anthropology," Brazilian composer Carlos Jobim's "No More Blues," and George Gershwin's "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" (from "Porgy and Bess").

Highlights of the two-night, eight-hour recording session will be included on Longo's next solo album, titled "Live at Vic's" and scheduled for release this year on New York's Wax-Ann Productions label.

"Recording a live album is something that's very rarely done anymore," said Mel Goot, talent coordinator at Vic's and himself a jazz pianist who for nearly a decade has played the local jazz nightclub circuit.

"These days, everybody is into slaving away in the studio for months and months, so a live album, especially a live jazz album, is a real dodo bird.

"And that's unfortunate, because some of the best jazz albums of all time were recorded live, without over-dubbing and without over-production."

Both nights at Vic's, Longo was backed by bassist Jeff Littleton, of the Henry Butler Trio, and former Pharaoh Sanders drummer Sherman Ferguson. Littleton is featured on the new Billy Higgins album, and Ferguson portrays a nightclub musician on the new NBC television series "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd."

Until this session, Longo said, he had never played with either musician. He wasn't worried, though.

"All good jazz musicians know how to swing, how to improvise," Longo said. "And as long as they can do that, it's going to be good jazz, even if they've never played together."

Longo said he came to San Diego to record the album solely because of his friendship with Williams, who frequently sang with Gillespie and Longo in the 1960s, when all three were living in New York.

"She was always asking me, 'When are you going to come out here?' and I would always answer, 'When you get me a gig,' " Longo said. "Finally, she did.

"It was also Ann's idea to record an album here. I had been planning to do a live album for quite some time, and when I told that to Ann, she suggested I do it when I come out to San Diego.

"So here I am."

Although his full-time recording and touring relationship with Gillespie ended in 1974, Longo said, he and the trumpet be-bop king continue to team up on stage "at least four or five times each year."

"I just got back from a 10-day tour of Japan with Dizzy, and while there we recorded three albums: one with Dizzy's big band, and two all-star jam sessions with people like Larry Coryell, Ed Cherry and Steve Turre," Longo said.

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