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Heating Up Those Cold Winter Nights

LI Orchestra jazzes up

meetings at Plainview library

The late, great trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, once summed up his views on music in one concise yet poignant statement:

“Hot can be cool, and cool can be hot, and each can be both. But hot or cool, man, jazz is jazz.”

You’d rarely expect to find that statement to apply to your local library, but to Mike Ficco, whose Long Island Jazz Orchestra meets at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library for weekly jam sessions, that statement is a way of life.

“Jazz is the one original American art form,” he said. “The only original art form produced solely by the United States is jazz...any other art form we borrowed from Europe, other countries, but jazz is entirely ours.”

Together a little over 10 years, the Long Island Jazz Orchestra boasts 16 members, not counting the occasional vocalist or two they employ at the live gigs they play throughout the year, which include dances, parties, and community events. Each and every member of the Orchestra, no matter what instrument they play - bass, drums, horns, or the piano – are among the very elite when it comes to jazz music, Ficco said.

“We have the most talented musicians on Long Island right here in the Long Island Jazz Orchestra,” he said. “These guys play in a lot of bands — a few of them here, a few of them there — but these bands never have ‘em all together like I do.”

Ficco is a saxophonist and Hampton Bays resident who has previously taught music in Huntington, performed for original recordings, and even played for a stint in Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band in 1967. Now retired, one every week he makes the trek to Plainview to jam and practice with his orchestra.

Despite practicing weekly at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Library (the public is more than welcome to attend these sessions), the members of the Long Island Jazz Orchestra are a diverse bunch, hailing from all over the New York area yet each making the trip every week to hone their jazz skills together.

While saxophonist Joe Carbone of Babylon has only been involved in the Long Island Jazz Orchestra for about a year, he has an impressive 50 years of musical experience under his belt to call upon when he needs it. However, he wasn’t always a jazz fan...that came later, he said.

“When I was nine or 10, I was a Beatles fan...what 9-year-old kid likes jazz?” he said. “But later, when I started to get serious about music, I was exposed to jazz by my father, who played it, and it’s been a life-long love ever since. And my experience with the Long Island Jazz Orchestra has been great so far...it must be, since I keep coming back!”

Bernie Rose of Bayside, Queens, has been playing the same saxophone for the past 50 years; in fact, he said, his sax just celebrated its birthday that same week.

“I’ve been in the Long Island Jazz Orchestra for about six years,” he said. “To me, jazz music is expression...my personal expression. When I was 14 years old I heard Stan Getz play his sax and it changed my life forever.”

Coram resident Mitch Kamen first started in music professionally in 1970 at the age of 16 and plays the baritone sax in the Long Island Jazz Orchestra, but according to him, it’s not his favorite instrument.

“Music is actually my favorite instrument, but I usually I play alto or tenor sax,” he said. “However, he had a hole in the Orchestra when it comes to the baritone sax, and I’m filling it. It’s a heavy instrument, and the last guy developed a bad back and I took over for him.”

Ficco counts among his influences jazz and big band greats such as John Coltrane, Count Basis, Stan Getz, and Miles Davis to just name a few; he possesses an extensive about of reference material of their greatest works, and hopes to use it to spread the word of jazz and, most importantly, clear up some misconceptions about this art form...that it is far from “easy listening” music, but instead energetic, emotional, and involving.

“We do this for the love of jazz... and we don’t do the type of Jazz that you hear on The Weather Channel,” he said. “All out our musicians are top-notch, and we have a massive library of sheet music from all the greats...compared to most bands that play watered-down jazz, our highs are higher, our lows are lower, and we have the intensity. When people hear it, they know...and they want to hear more and more.”

To find out more about the Long Island Jazz Orchestra, visit their website at www.lijazz.com.