This profile was inspired by an exceptional article here on All About Jazz by Derek Taylor called “St. Elmo’s Fire” where he focuses and expands on Elmo Hope’s music and recordings.
St. Elmo Sylvester Hope was born in New York on June 27, 1923, began piano studies by age seven and went on to win prizes for his piano recitals. He was a childhood friend of Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk and they would play piano for each other. He continued to play and improve and upon his return from the army in 1943, he dedicated his life to jazz piano, paying his dues in small clubs in the Bronx, Greenwich Village, and Coney Island.
There were recording sessions while he was working with ex-Lionel Hampton trumpeter Joe Morris between 1948 and 1951, but that didn’t really garner much exposure. It was not until June of ’53 where dates with Lou Donaldson and Clifford Brown for Blue Note started to give Elmo Hope a name in jazz circles. He followed quickly with some sessions as leader, and another with Frank Foster, both for Prestige. There were further Prestige sides cut with top players as John Coltrane, Donald Byrd, with Paul Chambers bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. These were originally called “Informal Jazz”, but as Coltrane became a bigger name the title was changed and Hope became regulated to the role of sideman. His piano style was overshadowed by the growing popularity of both Powell and Monk, and though he was in there since the beginning of the bebop movement, he was compared to and judged against the other two. His cabaret license was pulled for a previous drug conviction and this severely limited where he could work if at all. This would start a cycle of disillusionment and frustration that would hound him all his life.