Elmo Hope

A top pianist and composer who emerged during the bop era, Elmo Hope (1923-1967) never gained the acclaim of his contemporaries Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk but he had a strong talent of his own.

Classically trained, Hope gave some piano recitals as a youth but his main interest was jazz. He gained early experience playing with Joe Morris’s r&b-oriented band during 1948-1951. Hope first recorded as a leader in 1953 and he made records as a sideman with Sonny Rollins, Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown, and Jackie McLean. But the loss of his cabaret card due to his problems with drugs resulted in Hope having difficulty getting work in New York clubs. He toured with Chet Baker in 1957 and then settled in Los Angeles. Hope worked on the West Coast with Lionel Hampton, Harold Land, and Curtis Counce before returning to New York in 1961.

Fortunately Elmo Hope recorded fairly frequently during his relatively brief career. Meditations from 1953 is an excellent showcase for Hope’s piano playing which is showcased in a trio with bassist John Ore and drummer Willie Jones while The Elmo Hope Trio from six years later finds him in fine form with bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Frank Butler. Hope Meets Foster has the pianist in a quartet/quintet with tenor saxophonist Frank Foster. Hope-Full is a set of piano solos and duets that on some numbers co-stars his young wife Bertha Hope. Best of all is The All-Star Sessions which reissues the LPs Informal Jazz and Homecoming. Hope is heard in a jam session with trumpeter Donald Byrd and tenors John Coltrane and Hank Mobley. There is also a sextet outing with trumpeter Blue Mitchell and the tenor saxophonists Jimmy Heath and Frank Foster plus four trio numbers. Most of the music on this essential set was composed by Hope.

Elmo Hope was active on and off during his last years before passing away prematurely at the age of just 43.