HOPE-FULL: ELMO HOPE
Solo Piano and Duo Piano with Bertha Hope
1. Underneath (4:31) (Elmo Hope)
2. Yesterdays (*) (5:12) (Jerome Kern)
3. When Johnny Comes Marching Home (4:58) (traditional/arr. Elmo Hope)
4. Most Beautiful (5:03) (Elmo Hope)
1. Blues Left and Right (*) 6:05) (Elmo Hope)
2. Liza (3:32) (George Gershwin)
3. My Heart Stood Still (*) (5:23) (Rodgers & Hart)
4. Moonbeams (4:47) (Elmo Hope)
(* indicates piano duets)
recorded in New York City; November 9 and 14, 1961
The art of solo piano seems to be enjoying a resurgence of late, especially through the auspices of Riverside A&R chief Orrin Keepnews is familiar with many schools of jazz. This understanding of and liking for both the old and the new explains his long-time fascination with the way modern pianists can often sound so different when they record without rhythm accompaniment (“in the old way, as men like Jelly Roll Morton or Art Tatum did,” says Keepnews).
We have had the good fortune to hear three excellent and diverse modern pianists presented in this manner on this label during the past few years. Bill Evans has done several tracks in this style (Peace Piece and Young and Foolish for example); Thelonious Monk recorded two entire albums without accompaniment: and the most recent set was by Barry Harris.
Now another modernist, Elmo Hope, has added his version of solo piano to the contemporary repertoire. Hope has often been linked with Bud Powell. This is not unusual, for the two were boyhood friends and exchanged ideas as they grew up. Although they are similar in certain respects, Elmo, in many ways, is farther from Bud than Barry Harris, who certainly has his own way of saying something in the Powell tradition. Without having the fierce intensity that marked Powell’s earlier work, Hope’s playing has a certain essence in common with Bud – although this is less pronounced when he is playing solo. It’s an indescribable, ephemeral substance which permeates their music. In a way, it reflects the times in which they have lived, especially the period directly before, during and right after World War II, but with each it is a personal expression.
Elmo has always spoken his piece in a personal way. Perhaps his wife, Bertha, describes the core of his music best when she says, “He has a pure inventiveness no matter what he is playing – one of his tunes or someone else’s music. There’s a newness, newer than anything he’s done before. He’s got a ‘stretched out’ way of delivery – elastic. He’s the epitome of elasticity.”
There are other things about MO’s playing which strike Bertha: “His conception of chords and how he leads them into anywhere he wants to go. It’s in his writing, too, and the way he ‘paints’ it after he has written it. His conception is a little more ‘pulled apart’ and there’s more time to get the beauty to come out.”
Y ou might think that this is wifely prejudice and no doubt some of it is. Bertha Hope, however, is a talented pianist in her own right and her appraisal of her husband’s playing is rendered with the critical insight of a musician. Johnny Griffin who has known Elmo for a long time, has expressed the feeling that few bassists and drummers, including very good ones, can get with Elmo’s ideas and sense of time and rhythm but that Bertha really understands his music. (Actually, his comment to this effect was among the factors that started Riverside and the Hopes to thinking about making this unique solo and duo album.)
Elmo and Bertha met casually in Los Angeles in 1958, became friends the following year and were married in 1960. Bertha was born in Los Angeles on November 8, 1936. She studied classical piano, off and on, from the age of three until she was twelve or thirteen and again at sixteen. Bud Powell’s records served as her introductory attraction to jazz but it was when she heard Powell at the Haig in Los Angles in the early 1950s that the fascination became complete. When Elmo first heard her, Bertha was working around Los Angeles with local trios. This, her first recoding, finds her in an accompanist’s role on two of the three tracks in which she appears. She and Elmo had played together on one piano before but never on two. Her effective comping aids Elmo on the relaxed Blues Left and Right and she sets up a swinging bass o My Heart Stood Still. Yesterdays reveals her great sensitivity and feeling for both melody and harmony as a soloist.
The other tracks are all Elmo’s and he makes the most of the opportunity to set his own pace. This is especially evident on Liza and When Johnny Comes Marching Home (an unlikely piece of material but perhaps his way of celebrating the Civil War Centennial) where his voicings and sense of continuity standout. Most Beautiful and Moonbeams are highly romantic, very personal ballad interpretations. The spirit of the old and the new, mentioned earlier, is inherent in the simplicity of the blues Underneath. If this fusion of past and present, and the other ideas expressed in this album, are an indication of things to come, the future is indeed, “Hope-full.”
Elmo can also be heard on Riverside on –
Homecoming: Elmo Hope Sextet and Trio, with Blue Mitchell, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Percy Heath, Philly Joe Jones (RLP 381; Stereo 9381)
(This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RLP 9408) and Monaural (RLP 408) form.)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: BILL STODDARD (Bell Sound Studios)
Mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Cover and back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York