Mitchell Long


What is Jazz? It’s my life...

As early as 15 years old I was already writing about jazz and blues, discovering, listening to and being amazed by it avidly as evident in looking back in my high school journal circa 1977. My parents listened to Jazz and there are other auspicious early influences. But Indeed it took a while to wade through the popular music that I was exposed to in those earlier years - much of it great; BB King, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, The Beatles, Motown and Joni Mitchell but I never was too dedicated of a pop or rock player although it can resonate with me having grown up on it. So by 18-19 years old I had embraced jazz completely “woodshedding” night and day and listening intently to Bird, Coltrane, King Pleasure, Miles, Joe Pass, Wes and Peter Sprague among so many others. I even went to school for jazz some (Berklee and Naropa Institute) but I am more of a self-made and learn by doing musician.

Soon enough I was playing jazz gigs, making a living at it and discovering the whole culture and history. I started listening to and playing Brazilian music throughout this experience but Jazz was home base. Back in the day, most gigs you’d play three to five days a week and work with all kinds of combos and singers so the language and jazz lifestyle blossomed vibrantly. I say "lifestyle" because all my friends were either jazz musicians or people that loved jazz and we hung out, talked about it and went to places that had jazz and blues in the mix somehow. It is a direction in my life that defined me in myriad ways and also put me in closely touch with many of the greatest artistic riches, history and cultural diversity of my country. I can’t say any of this without a deep bow to all the African Americans who embraced and welcomed me and brought me up through this musical and life path.

Because of having children at an early age I eventually had to go out and work in the clubs, restaurants and wherever I could find work and soon I found myself not only playing jazz but also working with fusion, Brazilian, R&B, soul and blues bands to make more money. It was never bad music and I know my genre-jumping has enriched my interpretation of the jazz idiom. But with Brazilian music providing me so many gigs by the time I ended up again in Los Angeles in 2002 many years down the music road it was easier for me to break into the scene just gigging with Brazilian projects and as it turns out deep into Cape Verdean music. But whatever I've played over the years I always approached the music through my own sort of jazz prism which is kind of funny because in some cases one could never seem further from the other - but then again good music has a funny way of being all inclusive and connected at the same time. The biggest difference obviously is that a jazz player would never (hopefully never) play the same solos over and over. In fact in those groups where I was required to play the same solo or part I found myself always pushing the limit of the part in improvisational terms. The fact is I just can’t ever seem to shake my jazz roots, it’s who I am musically. This is really the reason for writing this “note”

I often have said that being stuck and pigeon-holed as a Brazilian music player/singer (some people even think I am from Brazil) is not really that bad, I mean, there are worse stigmas! But in the last 10 years playing only Brazilian music in Los Angeles was hurting my jazz heart. Actually this last decade being equally involved in Cape Verdean music, the Creoles have kept my musical and cultural path and discovery quite fresh and exciting. But still I longed to swing! So after talking bout it a lot with my wife, colleagues and even asking the universe, it slowly started happening and I began to get calls for “the guy who can play authentic Brazilian and some jazz too”  Well lo and behold these past few weeks I find myself back on the block as 100% jazz musician. There are others to thank that gave me straight ahead gigs recently like one particularly hard swinging evening in Beverly Hills with vocalist Adam James, Greg Swiller on bass and drummer Billy Wysaske. But these last two weekends with Sandra Booker, Charles Ruggerio and various bass players sealed the deal. Thanks Sandra. You are the real deal, hard swinging, interplay with the musicians, a fearless inventive improviser and have the general musical excellence that I have always associated with jazz and being a jazz musician. I made it home, and home is indeed where the heart is. Not that I leave behind any other culture, music and life - as I said, I know my constant exploration enriches my interpretation of the jazz idiom but I feel like I am complete when I am with my people, my jazz people that have come to claim and define my life in this world as a man and musician.

Special thanks to friends and colleagues Larry Steen, Aaron Serfaty, Enzo Todesco, Jose Marino, Carol Bach y Rita, Robert Kyle, Rique Pantoja, Nick Mancini, Elizabeth Lammers, Gloria Calomee and others who have helped bring some straight ahead jazz back into my work these past few years. I love Cape Verde, Brazil, Africa and other world music genres but it’s so nice to be with jazz, blues and her many tributaries. Naturally with my own countries music I have a profound connection that can be elusive with World music no matter how deep I go into the culture and music.

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