(June 25 1944 - July 5,2016)
Longtime Seacoast area jazz players were saddened to hear of the recent demise of a former associate, jazz composer and pianist Robbie Hope, early last month after a long battle with illness. Although he had not been active on the Seacoast jazz scene for some time, on occasion Robbie would show up at The Press Room or other jam session and astound listeners with his fleet-fingered technique and harmonic sophistication reminiscent of McCoy Tyner or Bill Evans, depending on his mood.
Robert Frederick Hope was born in Niagara Falls, New York, on June 25, 1944. He demonstrated an early interest in music and began his practice of piano around the age of eight. His parents moved to Durham, New Hampshire, in 1958 so his father, William, could take a job at Kidder Press in Dover. Robbie, as his close friends called him, graduated from Oyster River High School in 1963, studied piano with Donald Steele and Paul Verrette at UNH and got his undergraduate degree in music performance in 1968. The youngest of three brothers, Robbie lived a quiet existence at home while attending the university. The unexpected death of his next older brother soon after graduation was a psychological blow from which Robbie never really recovered. Those who knew him would probably agree that he was reclusive most of his life and generally not willing to engage in the self promotion necessary to make a living as a performing musician, and although he played gigs from Boston to Portland in most of the hotels and clubs that featured jazz, his reputation as a “monster” player was largely among those musicians who were willing to book the gigs or provide transportation.
One such musician was composer/flutist/pianist/vocalist Barbara London, who worked in the 1970s with Robbie at long-since-closed local venues such as Flagstones Restaurant in Newington and Joseph’s Rye on the Rocks, and also in a concert group called “Children of the Morning.” Another was saxophonist John Melisi, who for many years assisted Robbie not only in a musical capacity but with personal support well beyond the call of duty. John and Robbie worked the Seacoast from Boston to Portland during the decades of the 1970s through the 1990s, playing at the Sheraton Commander in Cambridge, the Riverworks Tavern in Nashua and the Colony Hotel in Kennebunk, among other venues. There are several recordings, some still available, of the Melisi-Hope duo that contain evidence of Robbie’s unique energy and musical vision. One is a 1990 CD re-release of “Tsunami,” featuring bassist John Lockwood and drummer Al Foster in addition to John and Robbie. (Label: Tiga Records - ASIN: B01G64G6ME). Another is a self-produced effort called “Spirit Talk” (Melhope Productions, 1988), which can still be found in some jazz cut-out bins if you are lucky. There is also another album entitled, “Serengeti,” but no information was available at the time of this writing. The author played several concerts with Robbie, Dick Willis, Don Land, Dick Biscornet, Ed Corey and others at UNH in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the Rob Hope Quintet even won first place at the MIT Jazz Festival in 1968.
Funeral arrangements have been made with Tasker Funeral Home in Dover. There are no calling hours and no arrangements have been made for a service, but the family plans to bury Robbie at their family plot in Marion, Massachusetts, sometime in the undisclosed future.