June 27, 2010

Tickle the Ivories, Elmo

Trio And QuintetElmo Hope, born on this date in 1923, was a self-taught hard bop pianist and composer who never achieved wide recognition but was influential on other bebop pianists. He was actually childhood friends with Bud Powell - they listened to classical music (J.S. Bach, in particular) together. Hope had a percussive style of playing that was generally rhythmic, fast, and harmonically complex, although he could also play very slow, almost meditative music as well. In the early 1950s, he recorded with Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Jackie McLean, and others. He also did some leader dates in trio and quintet formats with Frank Foster, Hank Mobley, Leroy Vinnegar, Philly Joe Jones, and Paul Chambers. Check out the Trio and Quintet compilation album from Blue Note Records, which includes this version of “Vaun-Ex.” Other albums include Informal Jazz, High Hope (an unfortunate name because of his difficulties with heroin addiction), and Homecoming!
     Due to drug problems, Hope lost his cabaret card in New York City, and so he moved to Los Angeles. Not a proponent of the West Coast jazz style, he nonetheless recorded with Harold Land and Curtis Counce. Los Angeles, however, did not light Elmo’s fire, so he returned to New York in 1961. His heroin use again caught up with him and he did a short stint in jail. He even did a recording called Sounds From Riker’s Island. After that, he played irregularly and did not record as much. His final recordings were made in 1966 and have only recently been re-released as The Final Sessions. In 1967, he spent time in the hospital with pneumonia - perhaps related to his drug use - and while still recuperating from that, Hope died of an apparent heart attack.

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