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Horace Parlan

Blue Note Recording Artist who performed with Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk
Pianist and composer Horace Parlan over his 50 year career has recorded 30 albums as a leader and has been a sideman with many jazz greats. Overcoming the disability of polio that paralyzed two fingers on his right hand, he developed a unique playing style to become a world renowned pianist. As a leader on the prestigious Blue Note label Parlen recorded six classic hard bop albums from 1960 to 1963. Mosaic reissued his Blue Note recordings on the acclaimed 5 CD box set “The Complete Blue Note Horace Parlan Sessions” in 2000. Before becoming a leader Parlan recorded with Charles Mingus on his masterpiece albums “Blues & Roots” and “Mingus Ah Um”. Parlan has also performed and recorded with Dexter Gordon, Booker Ervin, Roland Kirk, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, Red Mitchell and others. Moving to Demark in 1974 Parlan released eleven albums on the Steeplechase label through 1991. Parlan released another 11 albums on the labels Pony Canyon Records, Storyville, Enja, Soul Note, Timeless, Cope, and Stunt. A prolific recording artist and live performer Horace Parlan is known for his unique style that uses frenetic rhythmic right hand phrases with contrasting striking left-hand chords. He inventively infuses blues and R&B with hard bop into a soulful exuberant sound.

Therapeutic Piano


Horace Parlan was born in Pittsburgh PA on January 19, 1931 and grew up in East Liberty. At the suggestion of his parents he began studying piano at age eight as therapy. Stricken with Polio at age 5 his right arm and leg were paralyzed. He recovered but two fingers on his right were permanently parallelized. Working with an unsympathetic teacher he became discouraged and gave up. Four years later after seeing Vladimir Horowitz perform at the Syria Mosque he was inspired to try piano again. He found a encouraging teacher, James Miller, who helped him develop a strong left-hand technique. Miller who taught Ahmad Jamal, trained Horace in classical music for three years. Working with Miller Parlan learned to compensate by using the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand to complete extended chords usually played by the left hand. Horace graduated from Peabody High School in 1949 and went on to study law for 18 months at the University of Pittsburgh. But he was drawn to a career in Jazz after seeing performances by Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker in Pittsburgh and witnessing the success of his Pittsburgh contemporizes Sonny Clark and Ahmad Jamal. In 1952 Parlan began playing in the Pittsburgh jazz clubs. He played at the Crawford Grill with the jazz quintet the Apollos. He sat in with Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce and Charles Mingus. Sonny Stitt took him on the road for a few gigs in Washington, D.C. In 1956 he met and performed with Charles Mingus in Pittsburgh. Impressed with his playing, Mingus asked Parlan to join his new band in 1957.

Making It In New York

Horace Parlan moved to New York City in 1957 to work with Mingus. He was Charles Mingus's regular pianist from 1957 to 1959. Parlan laid down an enticing gospel undertow on the classic Mingus albums “Blues & Roots” and “Mingus Ah Um”. His “gospel-drenched” solos are heard on the cuts “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” and “Better Git It in Your Soul”. He next recorded on Lou Donaldson’s Blue Note album “Sunny Side Up” in 1960. They recorded Parlan’s composition “Blues for J.P” that later became a popular tune for Woody Herman’s Swingin’ New Herd.

Blue Note Records

Lou Donaldson persuaded Alfred Lion of Blue Note to record Parlan as a solo artist.  Parlan recorded 3 albums for Blue Note in 1960. His first release Movin' and Groovin', recorded in February 1960, established Parlan as a distinctive hard bop pianist with inventive chords and bluesy bop hard driving tunes. Working with his Pittsburgh friends Tommy and Stanley Turrentine Parlan released “Speakin’ My Piece” on Blue Note in July 1960. “Headin South” released in December 1960, features bluesy soul-jazz played by Horace, bassist George Tucker, drummer Al Harewood, and conga player Ray Barretto. It features an outstanding interpretation of the standard "Summertime". Parlan recorded with the Turrentine brothers again in March 1961 on the Blue Note release titled “On the Spur of the Moment”. The soul-jazz album “Up and Down” released in June of 1961 added guitarist Grant Green, tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin to Parlan’s rhythm section of bassist George Tucker and drummer Al Harewood. Parlan’s sixth Blue Note album “Happy Frame of Mind” recorded in Feb 1963 features accessible entertaining jazz. Going unreleased for a decade it was released as the Booker Ervin album “Back From the Gig” and was reissued on CD in the 1980s as originally intended under Parlan’s name.

Side Man

In addition to his own recordings Parlan freelanced at Blue Note and other labels recording with with Dexter Gordon on “Doing Alright” (1961), Stanley Turrentine (1962), Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (1962), Johnny Griffin (1962), Brooker Ervin (1963 and 1965), and Roland Kirk “I Talk with the Spirits” (1963). Parlan also played the jazz clubs in New York. His trio played Sundays at Minton's in Harlem. He performed gigs with Coleman Hawkins and singer Irene Krall. He was a regular at jam sessions at Birdland and other clubs, In 1961 he was a member of the Playhouse Four with Booker Ervin, George Tucker, and Al Harewood. He worked with Roland Kirk from 1963 to 1966.

Off to Europe

With the explosion of rock in the late 1960s jobs for jazz musicians dried up. After being mugged twice, Parlan became disillusioned with the New York and its jazz scene. In 1972. He decided to work in Europe as many of his contemporaries had settled there including Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, and Kenny Drew He contacted booking agent Jenny Armstrong who arranged him dates in Denmark and other countries. Parlan played a European festival accompanying Sonny Rollins, and toured with singers Jimmy Witherspoon and Leon Thomas. He played in the big bands of Clark Terry, Al Cohn, and Zoot Sims. Parlan met the woman who became his wife, Norma, in Demark. Marrying Norma he settled down in Demark. He moved to Copenhagen in 1973 where there is a large jazz scene. There he signed with Steeplechase Records, He recorded albums as a leader and appearing on the albums of Dexter Gordon (1975), Red Mitchell (1976), Frank Foster (1982), and Michal Urbaniak (1984). Parlan became a Danish Citizen. His last releases were “We Three” and “Relaxing with Horace” in 2004. Now nearly blind he has stopped touring and recording.
The Music of Horace Palan

The Apollos 1957
from left, Art Nance, Chuck Austin, Spider Lindsey, Doc Miller and Horace Parlan.

Blue Note Release