Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Hope, Elmo

Hope, Elmo (St. Elmo Sylvester Hope), piano, composer (b. New York City, June 27, 1923, d. May 19, 1967, New York City). Elmo Hope was a childhood friend of Bud Powell. Although it has been said that Hope was the equal of Powell as a pianist, his recordings do not bear out that assessment. In fact, his recordings as a pianist are quite uneven, which doubtlessly was a result of his ongoing addiction to heroin. His first recordings were with the Joe Morris rhythm and blues band, but his first jazz recording was with the Clifford Brown-Lou Donaldson Sextet on a 1953 Blue Note date, which was also the trumpeter's jazz debut. Hope provided three fine compositions to the date: "Bellarosa", "De-Dah" and "Carvin' The Rock" (the last co-composed by Sonny Rollins). Nine days later, Hope returned to the Blue Note studios to record his first trio LP, with the majority of the songs being his original compositions. He recorded a quartet session with Rollins for Prestige in 1954 and recorded several albums for that label over the next 3 years. His 1957 arrest on drug charges led to the revocation of his New York cabaret card, so Hope moved to Los Angeles later that year. He recorded for Pacific Jazz with Stu Williamson before replacing Carl Perkins in the Curtis Counce Group. On Harold Land's HiFi Jazz LP The Fox, Hope contributed four of the six compositions on the album (the title tune and one other were composed by Land), and played some of his finest piano work on record. He became disillusioned by the LA jazz scene and moved back to New York in 1961. He recorded several piano duets with his new wife, Bertha, and led LPs on Riverside as well as the smaller labels Celebrity and Beacon. His playing on the latter albums is rather poor, which is not aided by bad, out-of-tune pianos, on which Hope seems determined to showcase all their faults. He was back in prison in 1963 and played on the famous LP, Sounds From Riker's Island which featured several incarcerated jazzmen. Hope's final recordings were made in 1966 and he died the following year of pneumonia and an apparent heart attack.