Cultural Percussionist

Elmo Hope Day

St. Elmo Sylvester Hope (June 27, 1923 – May 19, 1967) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger, chiefly in the bebop and hard bopgenres. He grew up playing and listening to jazz and classical music with Bud Powell, and both were close friends of another influential pianist, Thelonious Monk.

Hope survived being shot by police as a youth to become a New York-based musician who recorded with several emerging stars in the early to mid-1950s, including trumpeter Clifford Brown, and saxophonists John Coltrane, Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean, and Sonny Rollins. A long-term heroin user, Hope had his license to perform in New York’s clubs withdrawn after a drug conviction, so he moved to Los Angeles in 1957. He was not happy during his four years on the West Coast, but had some successful collaborations there, including with saxophonist Harold Land.

More recordings as leader ensued following Hope’s return to New York, but they did little to gain him more public or critical attention. Further drug and health problems reduced the frequency of his public performances, which ended a year before his death, at the age of 43. He remains little known, despite, or because of, the individuality of his playing and composing, which were complex and stressed subtlety and variation rather than the virtuosity predominant in bebop.

Elmo Hope was born on June 27, 1923, in New York City. His parents, Simon and Gertrude Hope, were immigrants from the Caribbean, and had several children. Elmo began playing the piano aged seven. He had classical music lessons as a child, and won solo piano recital contests from 1938. Fellow pianist Bud Powell was a childhood friend; together, they played and listened to jazz and classical music. Hope attended Benjamin Franklin High School, which was known for its music program. He developed an excellent understanding of harmony, and composed jazz and classical pieces at school.

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