Horace Parlan, a hard-bop pianist and composer with an angular yet gospel-infused style heard on albums by luminaries including Charles Mingus, Clark Terry, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Archie Shepp and others, and on numerous releases as a leader from the 1960s through 2000s, died Feb. 23 in Denmark. He was 86, and in recent years had been in a nursing home due to multiple ailments including blindness and diabetes.
Born Jan. 19, 1931 in Pittsburgh, Penn., and left for adoption just a few days later, Parlan was stricken at age 5 by polio, leaving him with a partially paralyzed right hand and leg. He began taking piano lessons at age 8 as a form of physical therapy, but gave up after a short time. Four years later, inspired by hearing classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz in concert, he resumed taking classical lessons from an instructor who was also teaching Ahmad Jamal, discovering jazz later through studies with a church organist. The result was the development of a unique style—a strong chording left hand to counterbalance a right that jabbed and sparred using two fingers and thumb.