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The Jazz Musician Who Had to Improvise with Disabled Hand

Unless you're a true jazz aficionado you've probably never heard of Horace Parlan who made news headlines recently (February 2017) because the 86-year-old musician died on February 23rd. According to his obituary in The New York Times, "Horace Lumont Parlan was born in Pittsburgh on Jan. 19, 1931. His parents, who adopted him when he was a few weeks old, gave him piano lessons as therapy when he was 7, two years after polio left him partly paralyzed on the right side of his body. His teacher was not encouraging, and the lessons did not last long. He gave the piano another try with another teacher when he was 12, and this time he embraced the challenge."

Parlan then gave up on music and studied law, but then abandoned law to pursue a career in jazz. More from the article: "Unable to use the middle two fingers of his right hand, Mr. Parlan still forged a style that impressed critics. … as well as his fellow musicians … Mr. Parlan's approach to the piano required 'developing a facility with my right hand that I worked out myself,' he explained to The New York Times in 1984. I was trying to voice chords using as few notes as possible.' Of necessity, he also made greater use of his left hand than most jazz pianists do when improvising melody lines. As he put it to JazzTimes magazine in 2000, 'I had to find a groove of my own.'"

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