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Bronx to Honor Local Jazz Legend Bertha Hope with Tribute Concert

By Eddie Small | October 23, 2014 1:52pm
 Legendary jazz pianist Bertha Hope will be honored at Morris High School on Sunday, Oct. 26.
Legendary jazz pianist Bertha Hope will be honored at Morris High School on Sunday, Oct. 26.
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Bertha Hope

MORRISANIA — The Bronx Music Heritage Center will pay tribute to its legendary jazz pianist Bertha Hope with a concert in her honor this weekend.

The center will celebrate Hope, who grew up in California but moved to Lyman Place in The Bronx in the 1960s, on Sunday, Oct. 26 at 4 p.m. as part of its Living Legends series, which is meant to commemorate Bronx musicians who have had strong influences on both their genre of music and their community.

Hope said she was excited for the concert and viewed it as part of an attempt to help rejuvenate the borough.

"It’s interesting to be involved in this project," she said, "because it sounds like a revitalization effort in The Bronx."

The tribute, which will take place in the Morris High School auditorium at 1110 Boston Rd., will include an interview with Hope and a performance by the Bertha Hope Quintet.

The jazz legend began studying classical piano when she was three but got interested in jazz thanks to the music of Bud Powell, according to her biography on allmusic.com.

"It made me listen to the jazz in Bach and the classicism of Bud Powell," said Hope. "I mean, he was just amazing. He really did become the person that my ears became the most attached to."

She was married to one of be-bop's architects Elmo Hope, performed with Dizzy Gillespie, lived just a few doors away from Thelonious Monk's family in The Bronx and co-founded the all-female jazz band Jazzberry Jam.

Hope recorded duets with her husband and released multiple albums of her own as well in the 1990s, such as "In Search Of," "Elmo's Fire" and "Between Two Kings."

"She brings the legacy of that traditional style of jazz, which is be-bop, which obviously contributed [to] and influenced many of today’s contemporary pianists," said jazz enthusiast Bob Gumbs, who grew up with Hope's husband.

Hope is currently a member of the house band at the famed Harlem jazz club Minton's, teaches jazz classes at The Lucy Moses School and Washington Irving High School, and works with the Jazz Foundation of America, a group that aims to save the homes and lives of older jazz musicians who need help.

"She’s had a real importance in making sure women get their recognition in jazz," said Elena Martinez, co-artistic director of the BMHC, part of the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation. "She’s just not only a great musician who’s had a long career but is also doing a lot in education and activism in the jazz music world as well."

Past honorees in the BMHC's Living Legends series have included hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc and Latin Jazz bassist Andy Gonzalez.

Martinez said she was excited that the event would take place in Morris High School, as it is the oldest public school in the borough and right in the heart of where The Bronx's jazz scene was in the mid-20th century.

"The event will be really grounded in The Bronx, grounded in Bronx musical history," she said.

Hope said she was proud to have a career that has lasted for so long, but there are still more things she would like to do.

"I think that I’ve been able to see my own growth and able to also see how much I still don’t know," she said. "I'd like to be around for another 50 years to complete all of the projects that I have growing in my head."