BORN TODAY IN 1923 An influence on some of today’s finest players including over the years Eric Reed and Django Bates, St Elmo Sylvester Hope was his full name. St Elmo is said to be among other things the patron saint of sailors. Elmo Hope was born in New York city of Caribbean heritage on 27 June 1923. As a teenager he survived being shot by a policeman. He was a private in the US army during the second world war. His life was short. He died from heart failure aged 43 in 1967 after becoming hospitalised with pneumonia. His daughter Monica was only six years old. He met Bud Powell when he was a teenager and as a player his career kicked off with Joe Morris’ R&B band which he was part of from 1948-1951. In 1953 as a leader he quickly made trio and quintet sets for Blue Note records. During his lifetime Hope was not that well known beyond musician circles. His music still sounds as candid and involving as it is advanced just as Powell’s and Monk’s do. Few interviews with him were ever published. He recorded with John Coltrane on a sextet album for Prestige called Informal Jazz in 1956. Hope was a drug addict and went to jail for his habit. He told jazz writer Nat Hentoff: “Music is the most important thing in life to me. And yet I’ve been goofing that life away for nothing.” He recorded on Rikers Island, the East River island home to New York’s main jail where he served time, in August 1963 leading his ‘ensemble’ who included John Gilmore (1931-1995) of Sun Ra fame on tenor saxophone. After living in Los Angeles seven years before his death he returned to New York, marked first of all by Homecoming. He was married to fellow pianist Bertha (who later in life married bassist Walter Booker) and they recorded duets together some of which were released as Hope-Full. Last words for now: New York Times writer Robert Palmer, writing about Hope and Herbie Nichols, put it like this: “Jazz is not made by a few great men and a horde of camp followers. Each player and composer who masters the art has his own story to tell; as for the rest of us, our first responsibility is not to categorise, but to listen.”