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A Swingin' Career

After all these years, alto player says he still makes the '30s-'40s music work.

September 04, 1997|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pat Longo is lucky.

The alto saxophonist was born early enough and in the right place--Passiac, N.J.--to have made several visits to that wondrous musical spot, New York's 52nd Street. There, in the '30s and '40s, a single block between 5th and 6th avenues housed clubs such as the Three Deuces, the Onyx and Jimmy Ryan's, which hosted notables from swing-era stars Art Tatum and Coleman Hawkins to bebop innovators Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

"I heard all the guys: Bird, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Ray Brown, Max Roach," Longo said. "You could walk in, have a drink and hear the greatest jazz ever played. You were elated. There was this feeling, even after you heard Parker play something so fast that you wanted to turn your horn into a lamp."

That feeling never left Longo, even during his other career--26 years in the banking business. And when he retired in 1970, it was because "I felt I had to play music full time," he said.

Longo leads his 11-piece dance band Friday (and Sept. 19) at the Moonlight in Sherman Oaks. He said his talent is suited to an earlier era of music. "I love Charlie Parker but I could not think in those terms," said the altoist. He names alto players who gained prominence in the '30s and '40s--Johnny Bothwell ("his tone was almost lustful"), Johnny Hodges and Willie Smith--as primary influences. "I'm a swing kind of guy and I'm still making it work," he said.

He sure is. Longo has four different ensembles, ranging from six to 16 pieces (the latter appears at the Moonlight on Sept. 30), and he has a new CD: "The Bakery Sessions," featuring singer Mark Copeland, who will be at the Friday gig. There, Longo's 11-piece group will play primarily for dancing, though there will be some solos from the top-notch jazz musicians on board. And the tunes won't be swing-era retreads.

"We're not trying to copy the '40s, playing things like "In the Mood," Longo said. "Generally speaking, we're doing standard tunes that are written with a little up-to-date flair. So it's more like dance music with jazz overtones."

Sitting in the reed section has given Longo chills for years, and still does. "There's nothing like that feeling of cohesion, when everybody plays a figure right on the money," he said. "Everybody employs his own personality, yet we work as a team."

Longo, who began music as a teenager, was thrilled to be asked to join Harry James in 1972, where he worked for three years before starting his own band. "The band was always swinging," he said. "And Harry was so dynamic that he brought out the best in you." And he was generous. When Longo wanted to start his own band, James let the altoist copy as many of his charts as he wanted.

Busy with performances at places like the Moonlight, or in fund-raisers for the Boy Scouts of America, or at the occasional wedding, Longo, a Van Nuys resident, is deep in music, and he's not going to stop. "Music is my life," he said. "I'll go 'til I'm 90."

* Pat Longo's 11-piece band, plus singer Mark Copeland, plays Friday, 8 and 10 p.m., at the Moonlight, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. $5 cover, $9.95 food or drink minimum. (818) 788-2000.

*

Commemorative Bashes: On Sunday, Brazil celebrates the 175th anniversary of its independence from Portugal, and you can bet folks will be whooping and hollering. Well, they will at the Moonlight for sure, when Christiane Callil, a singer and dancer, presents her "Girls From Ipanema" show.

The gala, which also features the band Tropics, is designed for partying. "We'll be singing and dancing, and I want people to participate," said Callil, a native of Sao Paolo who has lived in Los Angeles for three years.

She will also teach those at the club a new Brazilian dance called the bum-bum. "It's as sexy as the lambada."

A special Brazilian dinner will be offered for the occasion. Callil's show starts at 8 p.m., cover is $5, $9.95 food/drink minimum. Callil returns to the Moonlight on Sept. 17 and 24.

Flora Purim and Airto Moriera will lead another independence celebration on Saturday and Sunday, from 6-10 p.m., at the John Anson Ford Theatre (2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood; $20; [213] 658-4077).

That show spotlights the acclaimed singer and percussionist as well as the MILA Samba School singer-songwriter Ana Gazzola and many others.

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