Category Archives: Max Roach

For Nasheet Waits’ 50th birthday, a Jazziz Profile from 2017 and Nasheet’s Max Roach homage for in 2009

To mark the milestone fiftieth birthday of the great drummer Nasheet Waits, here are a couple of pieces — at the top is a feature piece I had an opportunity to write about him for Jazziz at the end of 2017; below it is an article that I commissioned Nasheet to do for the great, late-lamented ‘zine back 2009, where Nasheet selected and discussed a dozen of his favorite tracks by Max Roach, who a key mentor and influence in his life.


Nasheet Waits Jazziz Article (#1):

It was midweek in early February, the eve of a snowstorm, and Nasheet Waits, internationally known as the drummer with Jason Moran’s Bandwagon for the last 17 years and counting, was playing before a sparse audience at Manhattan’s Jazz Gallery with a quartet led by 19-year-old alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, comprising 20-year-old bassist Daryl Johns and 21-year-old pianist Jeremy Corren. It could have been the most innocuous of gigs. But Waits, who is 45, devoted full attention to interacting with partners young enough to be his children. Sight-reading the rubato, ametric passages and shifting time signatures in Wilkins’ charts, he interpreted the melodies on the fly, unleashing a stream of undulating beat permutations while eliciting precisely calibrated textures from each component of the drumkit within the flow.

“They were incredible,” Waits said the morning after. “What comes out of their instruments is very mature.” He became sold on Wilkins and Johns after hearing them play standards in trio with twentyish drummer Jeremy Dutton two weeks earlier at Smalls, down the block from the Village Vanguard, where Waits had just finished his evening’s duties with Christian McBride’s open-ended New Jawn Quartet.

“They were expanding them to the edge of what you could still identify as the tune,” said Waits, who had shared Iridium’s bandstand with Johns on a Macy Gray gig in January. “It reminded me of the Bandwagon’s approach to stretching and bending and refracting the foundation. I thought, ‘Oh, these young brothers have the same kind of spirit; it will be nice.’ You have to start accepting who you are age-wise.”

The encounter underlined Waits’ status as a first-call among his generation for multiple bandleaders, famous or obscure, who want a drummer to render a 360-degree range of styles with authoritative execution, high musicality, imaginative intention and inflamed-soul spirit. During the ’90s, Antonio Hart, Stanley Cowell and Hamiet Bluiett were the most prominent leaders who recognized Waits’ potential; in the first half of the aughts, in addition to Bandwagon commitments, Waits frequently played with the Andrew Hill Sextet and Big Band and the Fred Hersch Trio. But during the past decade, he’s become a ubiquitous presence on projects led by upper echelon shape-shifters and speculative improvisors. Since 2011, Waits has toured and recorded with David Murray’s Infinity Quartet, most recently documented on Blues For Memo (Doublemoon). Into the Silence (ECM) is his fourth CD with trumpeter Avishai Cohen; Quiver (ECM) is his third with trumpeter Ralph Alessi; Incantations (Clean Feed) is his fifth with tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby. Then, too, during the last 15 months, Waits’ special sauce infuses pianist Ethan Iverson’s old-school piano trio recital, The Purity of the Turf (Criss Cross), with Ron Carter on bass; alto saxophonist’s Logan Richardson fusion-esque Shift (Blue Note); alto saxophonist Michael Attias’ outer-partials opus Nerve Dance (Clean Feed); and pianist Sophia Domanech’s programmatic Alice’s Evidence (Marge).

Recently, Waits contributed his interpretative mojo to Abu Sadiya (Accords Croisses), on which he, French-Tunisian woodwindist Yacine Boularès and cellist Vincent Segal mold the Malian-descended Stambeli music of Tunisia into original works. A collaboration of longer standing is Tarbaby, an experimentally oriented trio with pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Eric Revis whose four recordings since 2009 include discursive encounters with Nicholas Payton, Ambrose Akinmusire and Oliver Lake. New Jawn Quartet’s prospective spring recording for Mack Avenue will reflect the freewheeling interactivity that McBride and Waits achieved throughout their week at the Vanguard.

“I love Nasheet’s intensity, that he’s a conversational drummer without being obtrusive, which is a fine line to walk,” McBride said. “Playing with him is an exciting feeling, like running down a street when a dog is chasing you.”

Moran deployed a different metaphor to express a similar observation. “The way Nasheet’s sensibility moves on the kit is unsettling,” he said. “He can make the ground that might be lush soil turn into ice very fast. You think you have your footing, then all of a sudden it becomes very slippery, and that next step you take, all of a sudden you’re sliding. That can be infuriating to a soloist. I heard that the first time we played together, and it’s intrigued me ever since.

“Any bandleader who calls Nasheet is not looking for anything light. They want to feel the fire underneath them. They want to feel the rhythm really moving. Also, most importantly, when you write music and hand it to a drummer, you are looking for them to fill in every gap you left in the score, to make all the decisions that you aren’t able to make as a non-drummer. He’s figured out the tools to utilize to make people’s average shit sound awesome. That’s what great drummers do.”

“Sometimes you play things that aren’t necessarily what the person wanted, but it’s what the music needed,” Waits said. “I have more resources now than I used to. I always had a creative connection to the music, but I wasn’t always capable of folding that creativity into every situation because I didn’t have the capability. I’ve become more versed in the music’s continuum, and it’s strengthened my foundation. I’ve put a lot more tools in my shed.”


Shortly before New Jawn Quartet entered the Vanguard, Waits had played several dates in Europe with his group, Equality, with alto saxophonist Darius Jones, pianist Aruán Ortiz, and bassist Mark Helias, who perform on his 2016 leader album, Between Nothingness and Infinity (Laborie Jazz). He recorded it eight years after his leader debut, Equality (Fresh Sound), with Richardson, Moran and Bandwagon bassist Tarus Mateen. Both recitals reflect, as Helias puts it, “an unspoken imperative that we’re going to stretch out and take chances. Nasheet is most interested in where a piece is going, how we can expand it from the inside out to make something happen musically.”

One of Waits’ four originals on the new release is “Hesitation.” “It refers to my hesitancy to even ‘lead’ a band,” he says. “The way our industry works, you’re viewed differently as a leader than as a sideman. It took a while for me to become comfortable with feeling I was ready, although Andrew Hill had encouraged me to start my own thing.”

He seized the moment in 2007, while touring with Eddie Gomez for an Italian promoter who suggested Waits organize a band to play some dates. “I knew the promoter’s roster, and I thought a certain aspect of music was under-represented,” he says. “Everything I was seeing was very technical—well-executed, but missing a certain rawness and spontaneity. I felt Jason did that, Tarbaby did it, and that this could be my opportunity to do it.”

After the 2008 recording, Waits did sporadic hits with Equality, some with Moran, Mateen and Richardson. Helias entered the mix, and Cowell, Craig Taborn, David Virelles and then Ortiz played piano at different times. As Waits participated more and more in Murray’s projects, Valerie Malot, Murray’s wife, who runs the 3D Family production company, offered to help him find outlets for his sonic vision.

“I was reticent,” Waits says. “I felt sated in terms of my creativity. But I heard Darius, and enjoyed the emotive quality of his sound, so I decided, ‘Yeah, let’s work on some stuff.’ One thing led to another, and once we got this contract we started doing things overseas. This band definitely has a collective spirit. We’ve had quite a few special moments. I want to be part of creating as many situations like that as possible for the rest of my life.”

Waits traces the consistent imperative to exist as a creative being—to take risks, to make mistakes and play out of them—to “the people who mentored and taught me, my father first and foremost.” He’s referring to Frederick Waits, who worked with blues and rhythm-and-blues groups as a youngster in Jim Crow era Mississippi, before moving to Detroit, where he became a Motown house drummer. He moved to New York in the late 1960s, and ascended the ladder, accumulating a c.v. that boasted work with Ella Fitzgerald, Lee Morgan, Richard Davis, McCoy Tyner, Hill, Cowell, Donald Byrd, Bill Dixon, Cecil Taylor and Max Roach’s M’Boom.

Waits lives with his wife and four-year-old son in the apartment he grew up in at Westbeth, the venerable artists’ complex on the western edge of Greenwich Village where his parents were original tenants, sharing the space with luminaries like Gil Evans and Merce Cunningham, along with numerous painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers and actors. During childhood and adolescence, his main passions were baseball (he played shortstop) and the drums, on which he practiced assiduously to high-octane jazz recordings like Lee Morgan’s “The Beehive,” from Live at the Lighthouse, fueled by Mickey Roker. He played timbales and drum solos in an excellent middle school band that included best friends Eric McPherson and Abraham Burton, now esteemed jazz pros; Rashied Ali’s son, Idris, who played trumpet; and Sam Rivers’ granddaughters Aisha and Tamara, who played clarinet. At 11, Waits recalls, he accompanied his father to a gig in Connecticut with Jackie McLean, and was allowed to sit in for a tune. For his 16th birthday, he asked his father take him to Sweet Basil, a few blocks away from Westbeth, to hear Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins.

“I was there at the inception of hip-hop, but it was filtered through Gil Evans and all this other stuff my father was involved in,” Waits says. “It wasn’t that it was jazz; I was attracted to the way it made me feel. It was never presented to me that I had to approach jazz in a certain way, but a cultural importance was placed upon it—if you were going to participate you had to have a respect and reverence for the music.

“Greenwich Village was wild, a lot more diverse—culturally, economically, racially—than it is now. I could say that it translated to being attracted to a certain raw quality in what I do, but also in seeing validity in a lot of different styles of music. It’s more about the culture to me, and the culture can be expressed in a lot of different ways.”


Waits’ mother, Hakima, died when he was 13. He enrolled at a boarding school in Pennsylvania, from which he matriculated to Atlanta’s Morehouse College, where he studied history and psychology, while tabling his involvement with the drums. But when his father died in November, 1989, Nasheet returned to New York so that his 9-year-old brother would not have to be uprooted. For the next decade, they lived together at Westbeth, given unconditional support by family and friends like Max Roach, Roach’s M’Boom colleague Dr. Fred King (Waits’ godfather), and Carvin, who opened their homes and hearts. So did McPherson and Burton, who invited Waits to McPherson’s weekly gig at Augie’s, an uptown bar where other stars-in-the-making like McBride, Brad Mehldau, Jesse Davis and Peter Bernstein came to play. In this environment, Waits rekindled his passion for music-making.

“I didn’t read, and I hadn’t practiced rudiments, like doing a paradiddle or a double-stroke roll,” Waits says. “On my first gig at Augie’s, they called the blues and I didn’t know what they were talking about; they called Rhythm changes and I was like, ‘What does that mean?’” He set about systematically transforming raw talent into knowledge, abetting the process through formal lessons with Carvin; classes at Long Island University’s strong jazz program; and ample face time with Roach, who responded to Waits’ questions with cryptic, koan-like answers. Gradually, Waits assimilated dicta that his father had impressed upon him, particularly the notion that “the sound you pull out of the drums is the first impression you make to people who are listening.”

“My father never forced any of his opinions upon me, but let me discover these things for myself,” Waits says. “He, my father and Michael would always tell me to start my own thing. ‘Ok, this is the way they did it; now how are you going to do it, what are you going to incorporate?’ The breadth of their work was wide, and their hearts were open. They were practicing on the bandstand every time they hit. They had no limitations, and that became part of my lexicon.”

Roach’s insistence on “always sounding like he’s on the edge,” on “never playing it safe,” will remain core to the default basis of operations that animates Waits, his partners in the Bandwagon, and the other company he keeps. “Part of what’s helped us stay together so long is that I try to keep finding other frameworks for us,” Moran says. “It could be conceptual frameworks, where we work on how slow can we play, how long can a space be between one note and the next. I could ask Nasheet to do a press roll for 15 minutes on a piece, and then not have him do it during the performance. It’s to have us think about these processes and how we work together. These things give us new edges to jump off of.”

Waits concurs wholeheartedly. “If you’re always accessing something that you know, you’re limiting what you can learn and the music that can be created,” he says. “Sometimes it can be a disaster, but out of those disasters is a lot of beauty. The way Bandwagon evolved is optimal. It reflects being inside the music and trying to release yourself within that, becoming the music, as opposed to trying to control it or make it do something. To play a tune that sounds good the same way all the time is definitely not the goal. We’re always looking for the sweet spot, but to find that sweet spot you might have to tread through deep and murky waters where you don’t achieve it. The search is lauded as much as the accomplishment. Look at and approach the music like it’s putty in your hands. Make it elastic. Put it in a ball, throw it up against the wall, take it off, see what’s imprinted on it. That can be done in infinite ways, so there’s never an answer. That spirit lends itself to being fresh all the time. Immanuel and his guys were approaching it that way. Most of the musicians I’ve surrounded myself with have that same spirit.”



Nasheet Waits (Max Roach Dozens for

In an era when drummers consider it a default performance practice to navigate a global template of rhythmic expression, it is important to remember that Max Roach (1924-2007), whose eighty-sixth birthday anniversary came along last week, is the single most important figure in this development.

Just ask the drummers who knew him, as I did a few years back when Downbeat gave me the honor of writing a lengthy obituary. “Before Max, all the drummers, even the great ones like Baby Dodds or Gene Krupa or Chick Webb, approached soloing on the drumset from more of a rudimental and snare drum concept,” said Billy Hart. “Max was the first one to take the rudiments and spread them melodically around the whole drumset—bass drum, tom-tom, snare drum, cymbal.”

“Max was adamant that it was just as important for him to know the form and melody as everybody else,” Kenny Washington added. “He took independence between two hands and two feet to the next level.”

Roach was never content to recreate the past, which he associated with segregation times, and he spent the second half of his career in perpetual forward motion, determinedly bridging stylistic categories. “Max may have used 30 signature things, but he used them in so many different ways,” Jeff “Tain” Watts remarked. “One piece of vocabulary could function as a solo idea, a melody for a solo drum piece. He’d take the same fragment of melodic material and take it out of time, use it like splashing colors on a canvas or whatever, or use it in an avant-garde context, like his duets with Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton. That cued me not to be so compartmentalized with certain stuff for soloing and other stuff for something else, but just to use vocabulary—your own vocabulary—to serve many functions.”

Born on Jan. 10, 1924, in Newland, N.C., and raised in Brooklyn, Roach was the first jazz musician to treat the drum set both functionally and as an autonomous instrument of limitless artistic possibility. As a teenager, Roach paid close attention to “drummers who could solo”—Jo Jones, Sid Catlett, Chick Webb, Cozy Cole. Toward the end of his studies at Boys High School, he began riding the subway from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Harlem for late-night sessions at Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s uptown House, where the likes of Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke and Dizzy Gillespie, all Roach’s elders by several years, explored alternative approaches to the status quo.

By 1942, they had reharmonized blues forms and Tin Pan Alley tunes, changing keys, elasticizing the beat and setting hellfire tempos that discouraged weaker players from taking the bandstand when serious work was taking place. Before World War II ended, the new sound was sufficiently established to have a name—bebop.

Thoroughly conversant in how to push a big band—he hit the road with Benny Carter in 1944 and 1945, and filled in for Sonny Greer with Duke Ellington in early 1942—with four-to-the-floor on the bass drum and tricks with the sticks, Roach made his first record in 1943 with Coleman Hawkins, and played on Hawkins’ ur-bebop 1944 session with Gillespie on which “Woody ’N’ You” debuted. But as Charlie Parker’s primary drummer in 1944 and 1945 and from 1947–49, Roach developed a technique that allowed him to keep pace with and enhance Parker’s ferocious velocities and ingenious rhythmic displacements. His famous polyrhythmic solo on Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco” in 1951 foreshadowed things to come in the next decade.

During the early 1950s, Roach studied composition at Manhattan School of Music and co-founded, with Charles Mingus, Debut Records—one of the first musician-run record companies. In 1954, he formed the Max Roach–Clifford Brown Quintet, in which he elaborated his concept of transforming the drum set into what he liked to call the multiple percussion set, treating each component as a unique instrument, while weaving his patterns into an elaborate, kinetic design. After the death of Brown and pianist Richie Powell in 1956, he battled depression and anger, but continued to lead a succession of bands with saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, George Coleman, Stanley Turrentine, Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, and Gary Bartz, trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Booker Little, Richard Williams, Freddie Hubbard, and Charles Tolliver, tubist Ray Draper, and pianists Mal Waldron and Stanley Cowell.

Roach also performed as a sideman on such essential ’50s recordings as Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners and Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus and The Freedom Suite, as well as important dates by Herbie Nichols, J.J. Johnson and Little. He interpolated African and Afro-Caribbean strategies into his flow, incorporated orchestral percussion into his drum set and worked compositionally with odd meters, polyrhythm and drum tonality. He gave equal weight to both a song’s melodic contour and its beat. “Conversations,” from 1953, was his first recorded drum solo; by the end of the decade, he had developed a body of singular compositions for solo performance built on elemental but difficult-to-execute rudiments upon which he improvised with endless permutations.

He continued to expand his scope through the ’60s. A long-standing member of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Concord Baptist Church, he incorporated the voice—both the singular instrument of his then-wife, Abbey Lincoln, and also choirs—into his presentation. It was the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and he used his music as a vehicle for struggle, expressing views on the zeitgeist in both the titles of his albums and compositions—“We Insist: The Freedom Now Suite” (commissioned by the NAACP for the approaching centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation), “Garvey’s Ghost,” “It’s Time”—and his approach to performing them.

Roach joined the University of Massachusetts, Amherst faculty in the early ’70s, and seemed to use the post as a platform from which to broaden his expression. In 1971, he joined forces with a cohort of New York-based percussionists to form M’Boom, a cooperative nine-man ensemble that addressed a global array of skin-on-skin and mallet instruments; and in the early ’80s he formed the Max Roach Double Quartet, blending his group, the Max Roach Quartet with the Uptown String Quartet, with his daughter, Maxine Roach. He recorded with a large choir and with a symphony orchestra. A 1974 duet recording with Abdullah Ibrahim launched a series of extraordinary musical conversations with speculative improvisers Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp; these sparked subsequent encounters with pianists Connie Crothers and Mal Waldron, and a 1989 meeting with his early mentor Gillespie.

He also reached out to artists representing other musical styles and artistic genres—playing drums for break dancers and turntablists in 1983; collaborating with Amiri Baraka on a musical about Harlem numbers king Bumpy Johnson, and with Sonia Sanchez on drum-freestyle improv; improvising to video images from Kit Fitzgerald, to moves from dancer Bill T. Jones, and to freestyle verse from his nephew, Fred “Fab Five Freddie” Braithwaite, who conjured the epigram, “The man with the fresh approach, Max Roach.” He scored plays by Shakespeare and Sam Shepard, composed for choreographer Alvin Ailey, and set up transcultural hybrids with a Japanese kodo ensemble, gitano flamenco singers, and an ad hoc gathering of Jewish and Arab percussionists in Israel.

No drummer born after the Baby Boom knew Roach more intimately than Nasheet Waits, whose father, the excellent drummer Frederick Douglas “Freddie” Waits (1940-1989), was an original member of M’Boom. Nasheet attended high school with Roach’s twin daughters, Ayo and Dara, and after Freddie Waits passed away, Roach took Nasheet under his wing, eventually hiring him to play with M’Boom.

”Max always used to say that the drums were treated like the nigger in the band—disrespected in terms of your knowledge of music, your ability to be ‘a real musician.’” Waits says. “Nowadays drummers like Tyshawn Sorey and Marcus Gilmore write as well as anybody else. You have to be to be aware of what’s happening on a lot of levels to be able to play the music. Max may have been the first of his kind like that. He was known as a reader. That’s why he got called to play with Duke Ellington when Sonny Greer was ailing. But then, he said, when he got up to play the chart, there was no chart! So it became instinctual. That’s something that he always stressed to me, personally.

”I had the good fortune of being in his presence quite a bit, on a one-on-one basis, setting up drums and just being around the house. I was starting to get back into playing, and I’d be asking him questions, but his answers were always in a parable, always presented as esoteric knowledge, like trying to get information from a griot and receiving it as a riddle. He always emphasized that the key was to find your own voice, your own path. Everything I’ve heard he plays on always sounds like he’s on the edge, always taking chances, taking it to another level, not satisfied playing the role that drummers traditionally play—and still play.”


1. TRACK: “For Big Sid.”

ARTIST: Max Roach

CD: Drums Unlimited [Atlantic SD1467 / Collectables CD-6256]

Recorded: New York, April 25, 1966

Musicians: Max Roach, drums.

RATING: 100/100

“For Big Sid” is one of three drum solos that Max recorded on Drums Unlimited, along with “The Drum Also Waltzes” and the title track. He had referenced that composition quite a bit, but to my knowledge, this was the first time it was released. Just the fact that he had those drum solos on the album, and the way he presented them, was pretty revolutionary. To me, it’s one of the great albums in the history of jazz music, not only for interspersing the solos between the other songs, but also the quality of those tunes, like “Nommo.” It’s what he played, how he played it. In this music, you always find connections and threads to the history, and even though Max was always forward-thinking, he also referenced the past. This is a perfect example of that.“For Big Sid” references the tune “Mop, Mop,” which Kenny Clarke developed, and is also a direct reference to Sid Catlett who recorded that tune with Art Tatum in 1943. It’s like he’s killing two birds with one stone.

Call-and-response is always present in Max’s approach to soloing as well as comping. Here it’s like he’s playing a melody and comping for himself—all of it happens at the same time. It’s a supreme example of theme-and-variation, where he initiates a theme, and answers himself. He continues that pattern all throughout the piece. He takes a motif, flips it around, inverts it, elongates it. Same initial phrase, but it gets longer—different dynamics and so on. Max always said that he didn’t really play melody, that he played form and structure and shape. He meant that within the course of the framework of the song, the harmony and so forth, he was creating those shapes and following the form. But he always did it so cogently, with great clarity. This is a perfect example of that quality.

What he played was individual to who he was, and how he synthesized all of his experiences. He preached that mantra, but he also followed it. He referenced all types of sources—from the Caribbean and Africa, from the church, from Western Classical, rudimental solos, and Wilcoxsen. All of that is expressed when he played, and it’s certainly evident here. You see his technical virtuosity, but you also see how he uses space. It’s almost like the stuff that he isn’t playing is just as important as the stuff that he does play. Regardless of what he played, he always used that call-and-response, but there’s so much call-and-response from phrase to phrase within the context of this solo in the way he builds it and creates the architecture, and the tones he uses to express it. DIGGIT-UH-DUH-UNH, DIGGIT-UH-DUH-UNH, DIGGIT-UH-DUH-UNH-UHN, DAHT-DAHT.] Sometimes Max goes from left to right, right to left, and then he comes out this way. It’s almost looking in a kaleidoscope. You see the shape, then you twist it, which changes that shape. It’s coming from the last one, but it’s still related to what came before it. All his stuff is related to what comes before, and then he recapitulates to the

2. TRACK: “Dinka Street”

ARTIST: Max Roach

ALBUM: The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hassan [Atlantic, Collectables CD-6256

MUSICIANS: Max Roach, drums; Hassan Ibn Ali, piano, composer; Art Davis, bass

RECORDED: New York, December 4, 1964

RATING: 100/100

Jason Moran brought The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hassan to my attention, and it really speaks to me. It’s one of my favorite records, period. The whole record is a departure from traditional piano trio playing I’ve heard up to that point, which is late 1964. It wasn’t like the piano player soloing, and then the drummer and bass player are in support mode, like the Oscar Peterson Trio, or any other trio. It’s like everybody is almost soloing at the same time, or collectively, in the sense of New Orleans collective improvisation. That’s the historical reference I draw from it. It’s never that Max is just playing even the swing pattern and comping for Hassan while he takes a solo. They’re always back and forth, a true conversation. Everybody has individual responsibility as to what’s going on.

The tune starts with an arco bass thing at the beginning, he plays the melody, then a solo section. There’s no real TING, TING-TA-DING, TING-TA-DING swing going on through it. It’s referenced, it’s intimated, but it’s not really that. And Max isn’t really playing the hi-hat on 2 and 4 either. There’s no regimented feel throughout the course of the piece. Then the rhythm that all of them are using is pretty advanced. Hassan is playing phrases in 5 and in 7, and they’re all playing over the bar, even when on the trading. All of it is right on the edge. All of them are virtuosos, but they’re taking it to the apex in terms of creativity within the framework of a trio. Even Elvin Jones, as influential as he was in terms of phrasing and so on, generally rooted everything with a 2-and-4 thing on the hi-hat. Max abandoned that in certain situations, and this, as you can clearly hear, was one of them. He told me there were certain techniques you could use to play that way and still maintain the groove—the groove isn’t abandoned, but he’s still not playing 2 and 4 on the hi-hat. It’s more of a dancing kind of feel. I’ve heard older musicians say that to drummers and to bass players, like, “Yeah, ok, we’re walking, but I want you to dance.” So there’s more freedom involved in how everybody is approaching the rhythm within this group.

There’s also some ride cymbal distinctions on this tune which also, for me, references back to Kenny Clarke. In terms of the music’s evolution, I always think of Papa Jo Jones establishing that ride cymbal pattern, and then Kenny Clarke embellishing on that with techniques like “dropping bombs,” syncopating more between the bass drum and the snare drum, and also varying the ride cymbal pattern, using the ride cymbal more in terms of accents—so not playing four-on-the-floor all the time. On this particular cut, as on the whole recording, Max takes these ideas to another level in the phrases he’s playing in conjunction with what Hassan and Dr. Davis are playing, terms of the pattern of the ride cymbal associated with the omission of the 2-and-4 on the hi-hat. Everybody is listening hard, too, responding and reacting to each other. It’s not like anybody is just doing their own thing. There’s a true synergy. No automatic pilot.

Max changes the texture when the bass solo occurs by switching to the brushes. So takes the flow from a more interactive quality to just straight quarter notes, and changes the dynamic of the piece—more like a movement in a symphony. They’re constructing the music in a way that goes out of the framework of the regular song. From the bass solo in the introduction, to the piano rubato, to the tune, then back to the bass solo—the tune’s structure, the form of the song is pointing forward, elongating. It’s different than the regular 32-bar or 12-bar blues that some people associate with “jazz music.”

3. TRACK: “Tropical Forest”

ARTIST: Max Roach

CD: Birth and Rebirth (Black Saint (It)BSR0024)

Musicians: Max Roach, drums, percussion; Anthony Braxton, clarinet

Recorded: Milan, September 1978

RATING: 100/100

My younger brother is like a renaissance man; he does all kinds of things. A few years ago, some of his friends would come around to our studio and hang out, playing chess, and they’d put on this record. These people were in their early twenties, they weren’t musicians, but they really got into the music. I found that very interesting. This date is a set of extemporaneous compositions. They’re just hitting. But man, these people played this thing over and over again. Some of them were dancers. It spoke to them in a very powerful way. So I guess music can transcend boundaries of the acceptable or the unacceptable, or what people call “avant-garde” or “free.” This is a jewel right here!

It’s all beautiful to me, but on this particular cut what strikes me is that Braxton is playing clarinet, and Max is only playing the hi-hat and also a pitch-bending floor-tom, almost reminiscent of the tympany. Max wasn’t afraid to take chances. I don’t know anybody else who had that on their set—the pitch-bending floor tom with the tympany-like pedal. This piece sounds like, I would think, cut-and-splice—they went in and hit for however long a period of time, and took what they liked. “Ok, this is kind of a song form; let’s deal with this one right here.” This one starts out like that. Max initiates a basic phrase on the hi-hat, Braxton comes in and starts responding to that, they’re still having a conversation, and then Max opens up a little bit to the cymbals, and then he goes to the floor tom and alternates between the floor tom and the hi-hat. That’s it. He doesn’t touch any other part of the set for a little over five minutes. But he creates such a wonderful setting.

I wondered why they called this “Tropical Forest.” But then I realized that Braxton sounds almost reminiscent of those crying birds, like a toucan. I started receiving that kind of imagery from the sound he and Max got. In a lot of Max’s tunes, the title creates a certain image. I started seeing a rainforest setting—tropical colors, yellows and oranges.

This made about as powerful an impression on me as when I heard Roy Haynes play “Subterfuge” on Andrew Hill’s Black Fire. Roy just plays hi-hat the whole track, but still projects the force and drive as if he was playing the ride cymbal. Just that same phrase. I got the same feeling when I heard this track. Sonically, it’s almost a three-part structure, but they transmitted the feeling so effectively. That’s one I’m going to have to go back and revisit a lot. You stumble up on stuff, and then you go, “Wow!” You wind up playing it over and over again. That’s definitely one of those.

4. TRACK: Onomatopoeia

Artist: Max Roach

CD: M’Boom (Columbia JC36247, CK57886

Musicians: Roy Brooks, Joe Chambers, Omar Clay (composer), Freddy King, Freddie Waits, Warren Smith, Max Roach (drums, percussion, vibraphone, marima, xylophone, tympany), Ray Mantilla (conga, bongo, timbales, Latin percussion); Kenyatte Abdur-Rahman (percussion)

Recorded: July 25, 1979

RATING: 100/100

M’Boom is an all-percussion ensemble, a special group formed in 1970; this recording is from 1979, so it had been a while in the making. The initial members were Omar Clay, Warren Smith, Joe Chambers, Roy Brooks, Max, Freddy King, and Freddie Waits, who was my father. Ray Mantilla came in later.

“Onomatopoeia” is a word that describes a sound. M’Boom is an onomatopoeic expression. I’ve always thought of it as bass drum to the bass drum and cymbal — MMMM-BUM. Tympany. This piece is a perfect example of seamless transition. A lot of themes and phrases overlap and others emerge. or phrases or whatever. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of stuff where it stops and starts—one thing happens, an undercurrent of something under it comes to the forefront, this recedes, something else comes in. Polyphony all the time, shifting dynamics, the different instruments introduced in a staggered way. The piece is in 11, it starts off with the chimes, then the vibes and marimba enter, then after that’s established, the tympany and drumset come in, and they’re kind of soloing over that hemiola that’s repeating in 11—that’s Omar and Joe on drums, I believe, and Warren on tympany. That’s the first portion of the song. Then they make a transition. They stay in 11, but instead of playing [CLAPS 11 QUARTER NOTES], they start playing [CLAPS FOUR HALF-NOTES AND THREE EIGHTH-NOTES] and they go from the marimba and vibes to membrane. I remember playing this song, and they would always be like, ‘Membrane! Membrane!”—meaning going to the skins. If you’re playing a timbale, play the center of the timbale; if you’re playing congas, the center of the conga. No rims. That creates an interesting counter to the xylophone, which is in a different type of register. Max takes the xylophone solo.

Max always used to tell me, “Get to your shit quick” when you’re soloing. He’d go, “Yeah, you’re making some nice statements, but get to your shit quick.” In live performances it might have been different, but for this recording everyone gets their ideas out quick. Regardless how wild or expressive they may be, there’s always that very clear message, to me—not only from Max, but everybody. Warren Smith takes a solo on tympany after Max, then they transfer the phrase from the membrance to the rims—in other words, to the metal. Then he takes a solo on the membrane of a tympany. It switches up. That theme also occurs in a lot of Max’s work, whether solo or with bands—a juxtaposition of different feelings or sounds or meters against each other.

All the members of M’Boom were adept at making those types of rhythmic changes and comfortable with that variation, to the point where the transition from one to the other was seamless. The different textures create a different feeling for the listener. In certain instances, it creates a sense of power, and then when they go to the metal, it sounds a little more frenetic, more like an anticipation of the climax, which is coming next.

5. TRACK: Triptych: Prayer / Protest / Peace

Artist: Max Roach

CD: We Insist: Freedom Now Suite [Candid CCD 79002]

Recorded: New York, September 6, 1960

Musicians: Max Roach (drums); Abbey Lincoln (vocals)

RATING: 100/100

First and foremost, this recording was really important because of its social implications. The liner notes begin with an A. Philip Randolph quote”: “a revolution is unfurling—America’s unfinished revolution. Masses of Negroes are marching onto the stage of history and demanding their freedom now.” That’s where I assume Max copped the title, which was very powerful and definitely indicative of what was happening in the country in 1960. The Civil Rights Bill wouldn’t be signed until 1964. There was a long way to go. Black people in America were living under very severe conditions, and Max was addressing that in the music.

It’s a powerful piece. It’s a duo between Abbey and Max, presented in three parts. Max did a lot of duo work during the course of his career, which speaks to his musical sensitivity, because in every situation, even though he plays some similar language, he presents it differently—and it always seems so fresh and creative. The other day [pianist] Connie Crothers told me they had done a recording on which, he told her, he played some things on brushes that he had never played before. So he was always in tune, always searching for something outside his usual language. We all have language that’s usual to us. I use certain words and phrases more often than others. It’s the same with music. Even a genius and virtuoso such as Max Roach always referenced certain phrases—you can hear them on “Triptych.”

“The Freedom Now Suite,” was a collaborative piece by Max and Oscar Brown, Jr., but “Triptych” is just a duo, which it seems like an extemporaneous composition in three parts. The first part is “Prayer,’ which is the cry of an oppressed people. He starts with a simple phrase. That call-and-response, that antiphony, is always present in his playing. He starts, Abbey is singing, like a prayer, and then the protest emerges from that, where she’s screaming and yelling, and Max is rumbling. There is a definite sense of anger, but there’s also, especially in Max’s playing, a sense of organization. Taking it out of the musical realm and applying it to the social: People had been killed and mistreated for hundreds of years, so there was tremendous anger and resentment, but organization was essential to achieve the goal. I received that message especially in this part, because even though Max is playing aggressively and intensely, there logic in his playing, and he conveys there is also a logic to what he is playing. It’s intense, it’s big, but there’s definitely a logic—and he conveys the message. Abbey as well.

The last part is in 5/4. But Max also references that “Drum Also Waltzes” motif in this section of “Triptych.”

So the image that was created with this song was very powerful and pretty clear. “Triptych” is a piece of art that has three panels, usually the middle one being the larger. That definition doesn’t necessarily apply to this piece; the movements all seem almost equal in length. But I got a very clear visual image from it. Not too long after Miles passed, in late ‘91 or early ‘92, Max organized a memorial for Miles at St. John’s The Divine. Judith Jameson was there, Maya Angelou, different people, and there was some dancing going on. I drove up to the church with him, and we were listening to “Bitches Brew” in the car. He went, “oh, man, I can see these evil-assed chicks brewing some shit.” He was hearing the music and he was relating it directly to the title. He said, “I can see them stirring up some brew to fuck up some cat.” He said it sounds like that.

This has the same effect. I got a very clear picture from “Triptych,” referencing clearly what was going on at that time in America. Max had a lot of problems getting work during this period, from making his political statements. He said a lot of times he went somewhere, and they’d say, “I love this music, but can you just not say anything about this?” He’d say, “No, I have to talk about it.” It was taking money out of his pocket—him and Abbey. I know that she suffered quite a bit as a result of them actually taking a stand and being as vocal about it as they were. Financially speaking, their careers took a hit. So Max always put his money where his mouth was. He was really dedicated. Really high integrity. Willing to sacrifice financial security to get across the message.

6. TRACK: “Fleurette Africaine”

ARTIST: Duke Ellington

CD: Money Jungle [Blue Note CDP 7 46398 2]

Recorded: New York, September 17, 1962

Musicians: Duke Ellington (p) Charles Mingus (b) Max Roach (d)

RATING: 100/100

“Fleurette Africaine” is my favorite song off the legendary Money Jungle record with Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. So how can I not include it as one of my favorite cuts that Max was involved in? The great star power of those three individuals together on a record is phenomenal. Actually, to be truthful, I don’t know if Max and Mingus really had that connection in terms of the rhythm section. In fact, Max told me about some things that happened at the session… What happened is probably legendary.

Max was connected to Duke; he’d played with him at 16, his first gig with a signature person, sitting in for Papa Greer [Sonny Greer] for a few nights while Sonny wasn’t feeling well. Here, twenty years later, Max is somewhat of a star himself, and of course, Duke influenced Mingus so much as a composer. To have them all there is special thing. A lot of times, those kind of pulled-together all-star situations don’t work, but this is one of the best dates of that kind.

The Bandwagon recorded “Wig Wise” from this session. I’d never heard it before we recorded, but when I listened, it definitely sounded like they’re at odds, and there’s a lot of aggression coming from Mingus. I dug it, though! It definitely sounds frantic and tense. But this song doesn’t have that quality, which is maybe why it’s my favorite from the album. It’s melancholy, in a way, almost softly sad.

To me, Max provides that calmness. He’s playing mallets, and the feel is subdued throughout. The whole piece sounds like a ballad-fairy-tale song. This is 1962, still the era of the Civil Rights movement, so the fact that they’re referencing something African as beautiful, and equating that with black people, was important. Nowadays it might not necessarily be as important, but then it really was. The “Fleurette Africaine” title references the times—1962 is the year Algeria got its independence from France, and the African nations generally were coming out of the colonial grip. I think the musicians were conscious of that, and were using their music to convey a kinship to those people who were struggling for their independence, because we were doing the same thing over here.

A lot of times it seems that Max is playing the opposite of what Mingus is playing. Mingus goes DING-DING, DING-DING, he’s up in there, and then Max is playing longer. When Mingus is doing the opposite, then Max is rolling. The sound of Max’s playing gives me an image of water in a shallow river bed over small rocks. It sounds like there’s small rocks under what he’s doing. Gentle, sensitive, inobtrusive playing. Very simple melody. Beautiful.

7. TRACK: Donna Lee

ARTIST: Charlie Parker

CD: The Complete Savoy & Dial Master Takes [Savoy Jazz]

Recorded: New York, May 8, 1947

Musicians: Charlie Parker All Stars: Charlie Parker (alto saxophone, composer); Miles Davis (trumpet); Bud Powell (piano); Tommy Potter (bass); Max Roach (drums)

RATING: 100/100

I could have accessed so many pieces from this era, but I really like “Donna Lee.” It’s a great band, a revolutionary band, with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Max, each a legend in the creation of jazz music. And it’s a great piece of music. It’s an abbreviated song—Charlie Parker takes two choruses, Miles and Bud Powell split one, and then they take it out. I like the fact that everyone was able to say so much within that period of time. But this tune also exemplifies how Max could propel a soloist—the way he builds through the course of the song, the way he accompanies the melody and then the soloist. He always pays attention to dynamics; when the piano solo comes, Max takes it down. But during Bird’s solos, he’s never playing anything corny, like when people are using the same rhythmic language to converse. They’re congruent with each other, but they aren’t necessarily using the same language. It’s almost like they’re parallel and connected at the same time. So they’re cross-sectioning, but they’re also parallel—Max is egging Bird on and answering his phrases, like they’re speaking different languages but talking about the same thing. I find that fascinating.

Max was such a risk-taker. He had to have received a lot of criticism for playing that way, because nobody else was playing like that in 1947. He was playing with the people who were at the edge of creativity, and he himself was pushing it forward. Where he was placing his phrases was completely unconventional as far as the rhythmic language of the day. As I listen, I keep wondering, “where is the impetus for you to do that?” The horns were so much out in front on recordings from this time, it’s almost difficult to hear what everybody else was doing! Duke Jordan’s comping is really traditional, playing the turnarounds and so on, and the bass player is just walking, but the interaction between Max and Bird is completely different.

On “Donna Lee,” even when the melody is being played, Max is playing a kind of counter-melody against it. Arthur Taylor used to talk about “Confirmation,” how there are hits in the course of tunes like that, that are the tune. That’s how Max is playing that in “Donna Lee.” He’s playing off of the melody, playing in the holes of that melody, almost like he’s creating an alternate melody, an accompanying rhythmic melody.

8. TRACK: “Un Poco Loco”

Artist: Bud Powell

CD: The Amazing Bud Powell (Blue Note)

Recorded: New York, May 1, 1951.

Musicians: Bud Powell (piano); Curly Russell (bass); Max Roach (drums)

RATING: 100/100

On “Un Poco Loco,” Max played one of the greatest beats ever on a jazz recording, in the same category as the beat Vernell Fournier plays on “Poinciana,” or the beat that Art Blakey plays on “Pensativa.” Max told me that in the studio, he was playing some variations on Caribbean-Afro Cuban rhythms, and Bud said, “You’re supposed to be Max Roach. Can’t you come up with anything slicker than that?” So Max went home and shedded it out, and he came back with this phenomenal beat. Months later he ran into Bud in the street after not seeing him for a while, and Bud said, “Man, you fucked up my record!” I didn’t understand it. I was wondering what about what Max did destroyed it for Bud Powell, because it’s one of my favorites. Of course, Bud may not have been coming from an entirely rational place.

A lot of people have studied the “Un Poco Loco” beat, because it’s in phrases of 5 over the 4, which was way ahead of the curve at the time. Also, the fact that he’s using that cowbell; the sound he’s getting out of the cowbell. It’s obvious that he spent some time dealing with those rhythms. Max had been spending time in Haiti, where he went to study with a guy who had told him that he was greatest drummer in the world. The guy would tell him, “Come here, meet me right here on this corner at 2 o’clock,” Max would get there at 2, and the guy wouldn’t come until 7—he’d leave him waiting! But he said that the guy gave him invaluable information.

Max did a lot of teaching, but he treated his one-on-one drum instruction like oral tradition. He studied from books, and I’ve studied from books, but that’s only a small component of it. Books will give you the facility to execute the stuff that you hear and feel already, but it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the creativity. This is a perfect example. Max distilled all this stuff and immediately hooked it up into an original beat—you’d never heard anything like it before. It’s the beginning of all those phrases based on rhythmic permutations of five over the four—a step into the future in 1951. A lot of people are playing those types of rhythmic permutations now, almost sixty years later. It sounds like he pulled it together the night before, because it’s right on the edge of almost sounding fucked-up. Then when he comes in, what he plays isn’t clean, the way it was clean with Clifford Brown and that band. It’s right on the edge of almost second-take. I’m talking about everybody. It sounds like it’s not quite settled and comfortable. But I think that quality is what makes it a great recording, and the fact that he was able to superimpose that feeling and beat at that particular time and have it work, keep it happening for almost five minutes. Amazing.

9. TRACK: “Garvey’s Ghost”

ARTIST: Max Roach

CD: Percussion Bitter Sweet [Universal Music Special Markets, B0012607-01]

Musicians: Max Roach (drums); Abbey Lincoln (vocals); Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute); Clifford Jordan (tenor saxophone); Booker Little (trumpet); Julian Priester (trombone); Mal Waldron (piano); Art Davis (bass); Carlos Valdez (congas); Carlos Eugenio (cowbell).

Recorded: New York, August 1, 1961

RATING: 100/100

This is one of my favorite cuts of music of all time. It’s another example of how the title really speaks to what’s happening in terms of the music. This references Marcus Garvey, the great Pan-Africanist in the States during the ‘20s and ‘30s, who died in England at a young age, mistreated, and his organization decentralized by the same tactics used against the Black Panthers some years later. The piece references that history, talking about self-determination, but then it’s also really haunting, ghostly—the melody is so powerful, and the fact that Abbey doesn’t sing any words. Max wrote the song. The solos by Booker Little and Clifford Jordan take are straight fire. Then again, we see that juxtaposition of rhythms against each other, because he has Patato playing the congas and Carlos Eugenio playing the cowbell—Max is kind of playing in 6 but also in 3, in the way he’s swinging, and keeps that pattern almost all throughout the piece. But the way he’s comping, it’s almost like he’s soloing. The way he pushes Booker Little and Clifford Jordan through their solos is reminiscent of a solo that he takes, but he keeps that ride cymbal pattern going the whole time, along with the other percussion. But everybody has a certain freedom within what they’re doing. Even the cascara pattern that the cowbell is playing is not fixed. Max’s ride cymbal pattern is, but the other shit he’s playing completely is not. It’s not like any traditional comping. It’s like collective improvisation. Then he solos over that cascara and the congas, and, as he often does, he utilizes a lot of space. He always plays something and then leaves some space, and then plays something else and leaves some space. He calls, he answers, he answers, and then he leaves some space, and then he calls, he answers, and he leaves some space. He always used to say that. There’s always room. “Get to your shit quick, make a statement, and in making that statement, the things that you don’t play are just as important as the things you do.” That always seemed to be a theme for him, and he utilized it in every component of his career. Always some space for others.

That’s the way it seems he led his life in aligning himself with different people, like the record with Hassan, where he gave him the opportunity to present his original music, and even though it was billed as the Max Roach Trio, the title was The Legendary Hassan. That was the only recording that Hassan made except for another Odean Pope recording that I don’t think was ever released. Or the fact that he aligned himself with Clifford Brown and said, “Let’s lead the band together.” I don’t know if he really had to do that. Also the different duo situations. Always on the cusp, but then also, in a sense, very selfless. To be as prolific as he had to have a strong sense of self, as I know because I was around him. That strong sense of self allowed him to let other people shine as well. It was never, “No, it has to be me, and you can’t do your thing.” It was “come on and do your thing.” This is a perfect example. It’s not like he has to growl over the whole thing. He leaves some space, and then he’ll talk to one of the cats, and communicate. Everybody’s listening. This is a year after We Insist, and Max was still on the same path. There’s tunes like “Man From South Africa,” in 7/4. He’s still making that commentary. He’s still on the soapbox, because it’s important and it’s still current, still developing in America.

In 1991, I remember doing a Sacred Drums tour with Max here in America, one of my very first gigs out of town. Tito Puente was on it, and some of these Native American drummers, some koto, stuff like that. Max was playing with Mario Bauza, who had a small orchestra. He was doing multiple things as well as solo stuff, playing with the small band, and this was one of the other portions of the show. Patato was in the band, too. During one of the rehearsals the piano player came up with some arrangements for Max to read, and he called over to me—I was there as a stagehand, his PA, setting up the cymbals and stuff like that. He was just trying to put some money in my pocket and help me out. Max said, “come here, man. Play this.” So he got me down to play the show, and got me my first traveling gig—with Mario Bauza! I had no idea then who he was. I didn’t know what I was doing with clave and so on. I remember Patato looking at me like, “You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.” The other cats in the band were very encouraging, but Patato didn’t want to give it up. Which I understood, though, because I didn’t know what I was doing. Some years later, I did a recording with him and Michael Marcus and Rahn Burton, and he was cool—maybe I had gotten a few things together. But he tuned my snare drum. I don’t know how, because he still didn’t speak any English, but he tightened it in a certain way, and that snare drum still sounds great to this day. He showed me how to tune the bottom a little tighter than the top. He had that pitch. That snare drum was singing for years.

10. TRACK: “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing,”

ARTIST: Max Roach

CD: Clifford Brown And Max Roach At Basin Street [EmArcy MG 36070]

Recorded: New York, February 16, 1956

Musicians: Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet : Clifford Brown (tp) Sonny Rollins (ts) Richie Powell (p,arr) George Morrow (b) Max Roach (d)

RATING: 100/100

Clifford Brown And Max Roach At Basin Street is one of the albums that I played along with the most when I was younger, and—along with Round Midnight by Miles with Philly, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, John Coltrane’s Crescent, and Horace Silver’s Silver’s Serenade—it’s one of the classic albums that anybody who is interested in pursuing a career in the music really needs to check out. Even though it was only together for about a year, it’s one of Max’s most important bands, with Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown on the front line. I love the arrangements and the way that band played together. The stuff was tight. It was a true band—a perfect example of the best. I hate to use that sort of terminology, but that’s the way I feel about it. These cats were executing at such a high level, and the music was so refreshing. It’s still refreshing, to this day.

This one starts off with a little, one-bar intro on the bell of the cymbal, and then they go into five, and then come the solos—Clifford, Sonny, Richie Powell, and Max. One thing that attracts me to this take is the way Richie Powell plays coming out of Max’s solo going back into the top of the song. It’s a seamless transition, like they’re coming together from different places, right into the theme.

It’s important that they were playing in 5/4 in 1956. In American culture most music is in four. It’s just those 5 beats, but with a little lopsided feeling. Now, if we were raised in India or Iraq, we would be accustomed to feeling those rhythms—but we’re not. So the fact that they were using it in “Popular music” meant something in pushing the music forward—initiating something that hadn’t been widely accepted, as happened when Dave Brubeck did “Take Five” a few years later. So this recording is an important document in terms of recorded history. Once an idea is documented, it becomes a possibility. If you were a younger musician in 1956 listening to this for the first time, it may have been the first time you’d heard someone do it, or play a different time signature—and the presentation is so beautiful. Max was part of so many movements where he was ahead of his time, or pointing to the future, part of the vanguard of musicians who always did something challenging.

11. TRACK: “Variation On A Familiar Theme”

ARTIST: Max Roach

CD: Max Roach With The Boston Percussion Ensemble

Musicians: Al Portch (frh) Max Roach (d) Irving Farberman, Everette Firth, Lloyd McCausland, Arthur Press, Charles Smith, Harold Thompson, Walter Tokarczyk (per) Corinne Curry (soprano voice) Harold Faberman (cond, dir, arranger)

recorded in Music Barn of the Music Inn, Lenox, Mass. on Aug. 17, 1958.

RATING: 100/100

I only heard this recently, and it’s an amazing piece—another example of seamless transitions. It runs 2-minutes-20-seconds, and it’s a variation of “Pop Goes The Weasel.” Theoretically it’s like a predecessor to M’Boom. I don’t know if that idea had anything to do with Max’s decision to pull these musicians together, but this was something completely different. He was just guest soloist with the Boston Percussion Ensemble. Harold Faberman did the arrangement.

Here Max is playing within the conventions of orchestral percussion, but from the first time you hear him on the brushes it’s unmistakably him—the same phrasing, the same sound out of the instrument. Regardless of the setting, the language was so indigenous to his person, you know it’s Max regardless of the setting. There are several sections. Max initiates some time with the brushes, then they come in with a theme, then they switch up from 4/4 to 3/4, and he makes that transition, too. A different theme is initiated, and then they transition back into four. This often happens in Western Classical music, but here it’s an interesting juxtaposition of time signatures and also of genre. It’s the “jazz feeling” or whatever, because Max is playing some time countered against what the orchestra is doing with the structure of the piece. He kind of solos in it, but he’s also weaving in and out of the piece, and he’s used to accentuate certain portions. It amazes me that Max was so open and flexible and willing to put himself into so many different positions throughout his career.

I have a degree in music, but the way I learned the music was kind of on the street, watching my Pops play and so forth. I’ve never studied Western classical. Now, Max went to Manhattan School of Music and studied it, but here it sounds like he’s using the techniques that he mastered from his experiences, not from the Western pedagogy. Within the framework of this piece, the music has a certain time feel. When I played with orchestra, it was always challenging from the downbeat, because when I see the conductor come down, I’m thinking that’s the downbeat, but it’s not. Then it’s weird. It’s the downbeat-and, and everyone’s responding to that. Visually, it was so challenging to de-condition yourself—in jazz, it’s always the downbeat, so everyone enters there, whereas in the orchestra the AND after the downbeat is the place. So the fact that Max was able to integrate what he does within that setting so seamlessly, to play the music so impeccably, was impressive—to say the least!

12. TRACK: Streams of Consciousness

Artist: Max Roach

CD: Streams of Consciousness (Baystate (Jap)RVJ-6016)

Musicians: Max Roach, drums, Dollar Brand (aka Abdullah Ibrahim, piano)

Recorded: New York, September 20, 1977

RATING: 100/100

This is another one of Max’s many extemporaneous compositions. On the jacket he writes: “This music is an expression of pure improvisation. Mr. Brand (this is when he was still Dollar Brand) and I had no rehearsals or plans, written or otherwise, as to how or what we were going to record…the resulting cohesiveness, I am sure, had much to do with our environmental similarities.” Another piece on this album is titled “Consanguinity,” and that’s what Max was talking about—the connection between people who are descended from the same ancestry. He’s talking about the fact that he and Abdullah Ibrahim, who was a South African pianist, were equally involved in the struggle for the freedom of their people—or had been involved, because by this time conditions had changed in America, though not in South Africa yet.

But the first cut, which runs about 21 minutes, is called “Stream of Consciousness.” To a certain degree, it’s a spontaneously organized suite that occurs in different movements. They definitely played some construct songs; I don’t know if Abdullah Ibrahim had previously played them, but they were definitely tunes. In between the tunes, a drum solo brings about the transition. That is, in between each statement, there’s a small drum solo, then there was another idea collectively expressed. There are 5 or 6 movements. It goes from drum solo, to interlude, to a 7/4 thing, then the drums initiate a faster 7/4, then they play a couple of blues, a solo—not really any solo piano except when Abdullah Ibrahim plays a little solo at the beginning, and then Max plays some. There are some church inferences after that. You can hear some South African themes, but not as pronounced as you might expect.

It’s another example of Max’s social consciousness and awareness, and also his ability to put himself in an unconventional situation—duo with drums and piano isn’t done that much. In all honesty, the sound is terrible. The bass sounds like a big drum, like he might be using some oil heads or something. The drums themselves don’t sound that good. But the magic between Max and Abdullah is pretty special. It’s obvious that they have a kinship in what’s being played. I think it’s ultimate artistry, not to plan or discuss what’s going to happen, to feel each other out, to let it fly and be open to whatever happens.

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Filed under Jazziz, Max Roach, Nasheet Waits

Memories of Max Roach, (b. Jan. 10, 1924, d. Aug. 16, 2007)

Four years ago, when Max Roach died, DownBeat asked me to write a multi-part appreciation—an obituary, an account of the funeral, and an assessment of his massive contribution to the sound of jazz. Towards this end, I interviewed some 20 musicians—fellow drummers, band alumni, and admirers—from several subsequent generations to offer testimony. I’m pasting below first the legacy article, then the obituary, then an account of the funeral.

For further illumination, check out this appreciation of Mr. Roach by Nasheet Waits, which ran a few years ago on, or this memorial program on the Democracy Now radio show, on which Amy Goodman elicited remarks from Amiri Baraka, Phil Schaap, and Sonia Sanchez.

A little later,  I hope to post the verbatim interviews that I conducted in putting together the piece.

* * *

Max Roach Legacy  
By Ted Panken

At the onset of Max Roach’s career, it was unimaginable that, largely through his agency, the drums would become a co-equal voice in the jazz ensemble. But from 1944, when Roach—his bass drum blanketed  by the recording engineer—propelled “Woody ’N’ You” on the Coleman  Hawkins date that introduced bebop vocabulary to the world at large,  the rhythmic matrix upon which jazz would grow was forever changed.

Elaborating on the rhythmic innovations of Jo Jones and Kenny Clarke at the cusp of the ‘40s, Roach worked out ways to shift the pulse-keeping function from the four-on-the-floor bass drum of the great ‘30s dance band drummers to the ride cymbal, allowing the drummer to comment more freely upon as well as to propel the action.

“Before Max, all the drummers, even the great ones like Baby Dodds or Gene Krupa or Chick Webb, approached soloing on the drumset from more of a rudimental and snare drum concept,” said Billy Hart. “Max was the first one to take the rudiments and spread them melodically around the whole drumset—bass drum, tom-tom, snare drum, cymbal.”

“Max was the first percussionist back in the ’40s to make everybody  respect the drummer,” said drummer Kenny Washington. “Jo Jones and Sid  Catlett and Kenny Clarke also had a hand in that development, in  playing forms, but Max took it to the next level, playing lines and  rhythms inspired by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell.  Max was adamant that it was just as important for him to know the form  and the melody as everybody else. He took independence between two hands and two feet to the next level.”

Roach was never content to recreate  the past, which he associated with segregation times, and he spent the second half of his career in  perpetual forward motion, determinedly bridging stylistic categories.  “Max may have used 30 signature things, but he used them in so many  different ways,” said Jeff “Tain” Watts. “One piece of vocabulary  could function as a solo idea, a melody for a solo drum piece. He’d  take the same fragment of melodic material and take it out of time,  use it like splashing colors on a canvas or whatever, or use it in an  avant-garde context, like his duets with Cecil Taylor and Anthony  Braxton. That cued me not to be so compartmentalized with certain  stuff for soloing and other stuff for something else, but just to use  vocabulary—your own vocabulary—to serve many functions.

“Max thought of the drum set as equal to any instrument, and he  pushed the instrument forward by not limiting its context,” Watts  continued. “Why not feature the drum set with a symphony orchestra? I  saw him collaborate with dance and spoken word. He pretty much did  everything. He gave everybody a really cool gift, in addition to his  musicianship.”

True to the black culture ethos of his era, Roach valued  individuality above all things. “I tried to get analytical answers  from him, but he never gave them to me,” said Nasheet Waits, who spent  much time with Roach around the cusp of the ’90s, after his father,  Freddie Waits, a member of M’Boom and Roach’s close friend, died. “I  asked him about playing in the odd time signatures, and he said, ‘It’s  like mathematics.’ It was always in parable; I’d come away from the  discussion not necessarily thinking that I got an answer. He’d give me  advice on positioning myself, how to approach the art seriously from a  social perspective, in terms of history and economics. He said, ‘When  I was your age and trying to play on the scene at Minton’s and these  places uptown, nobody ever really wanted to sound like anybody else.  Everybody wanted to develop something of their own.’”

Home from Boys High School as a teenager in Bedford-Stuyvesant around  1938 and 1939, Roach recalled some years ago—in a radio interview for  WKCR—that he and his friend Cecil Payne, the baritone saxophonist,  “would listen to the radio shots of Count Basie’s band from Chicago,  Kansas, and other places. Papa Jo Jones would break the rhythms behind  Lester Young. That’s why I say say for every three beats by any  drummer, five belong to Jo Jones.”

During those years, Roach, whose early drum heroes included Big Sid  Catlett, Chick Webb and Cozy Cole, was making it his business to  master the fundamentals of his craft. “Although Max didn’t use  rudiments in the same way the early swing drummers did—five-stroke  rolls, paradiddle-diddle stickings and things like that to get around  the drums—he knew all that stuff,” Washington said. “He was the first  guy to introduce Charles Wilcoxsen’s Rudimental Swing Solos book to  bebop drumming, which he probably got from Cozy Cole. Cozy had a  feature with Cab Calloway called ‘Paradiddle,’ on which he uses a  paradiddle in different variations. Max quoted a lot from that in his  drum solo on Charlie Parker’s ‘Koko.’”

Two years before “Koko,” Parker had joined Roach and trumpeter  Victor Coulson, the band’s straw boss, on a gig at Georgie J’s Tap  Room. At 3 a.m., he’d take down his gear, bring the drums to Monroe’s  Uptown House in Harlem and hit for a 4 a.m.–9 a.m. breakfast show. By  the end of 1943 Roach was working on 52nd Street with Lester Young and  Coleman Hawkins, with whom he made his first recordings; by the spring  of 1944 he was playing the Three Deuces, first with Gillespie and Don  Byas, then with Gillespie and Parker. Benny Carter’s big band,  propelled by teenage drummer George Russell, was across the street  from the Deuces; Russell developed tuberculosis, and recommended Roach  as his replacement.

“I had been in an emulation groove, but Hawk and Pres made me  realize that invention is something that you are charged with,” Roach  had said. “You try to invent things so that you can better define your  musical personality. Out of that comes melodies. Mine came about from  experimenting with the superimposition of time like 5 against 4, or 7  against 3, or with polymeters—you can break up a four-bar phrase in  4/4, which is 16 beats, into four 4/4 bars, two 5/4 bars, and two 3/4  bars, and you have even more to work with if it’s an eight-bar phrase.  When I came off the road, George Russell and I kept trying to open up  more and more to create new sounds.”

Roach liked to recall a moment during the 1944 Three Deuces gig  when Parker delivered a multilayered musical lesson. “Kenny Clarke and  people like that were in the Army,” he said, “and since I could keep  time and play the instrument and read, I was in demand. I got cocky.  I’d come late to the rehearsals, and Dizzy and Bird would wait. One  time they were waiting for me at my house! Dizzy said, ‘Here he comes  now, Bird,’ and Bird was sitting on my drum set with sticks in his  hand and his horn across his lap. He looked at me and said, ‘Hey, Max,  can you do this?’ He played quarter notes on the bass drum, the  Charleston rhythm on the hi-hat, the shuffle rhythm with the left  hand, and the CHING-CH-CH-CHING beat with the right hand all at the  same time! I couldn’t do it. I had to practice that. He reduced me  down to where I should be.”

He never stopped developing his craft. At the cusp of  the ’50s, he attended Manhattan School of Music, where he studied  composition. During these years, obsessed with capturing the many voices that the drums could carry, he explored Afro-Caribbean rhythms first-hand—observing Machito’s timbalero Ubaldo  Nieto on sets at Birdland, hanging out with Tito Puente, making a  pilgrimage to Port-au-Prince to visit Haitian master drummer Tiroro, and doing a Washington, D.C., concert with Asadata Dafora’s pioneering  African dance troupe with Gillespie and Parker. He extrapolated those  rhythms onto the different instruments that comprise the drum set,  and, using his extraordinary independence, wove them into elegant  designs. In 1953, he recorded his first solo drum composition, and, as  the ’50s progressed, he found ways to weave odd meters into the sound  of his groups.

“He became a great composer as far as the language of the drums and  the tradition of jazz,” said Andrew Cyrille, a Brooklyn native who recalls hearing Roach practice at the Putnam Central, a second floor space in Bedford Stuyvesant.  A friend of  Roach’s first wife, Mildred, he remained close to Roach throughout his  life. “He made his statements, expressed his philosophy, told his  stories from all the records he made. Several times I saw Max play the  ‘Battle of the Drums’ gigs they used to hold on Monday night at  Birdland, where they’d play ‘Cherokee’ or ‘A Night In Tunisia,’ which  are both AABA, in 4/4 time. When it was time for him to solo, he’d  play in 5/4, which would amaze everyone, like he’d pulled out the  joker.”

“One of the things that made a big impression on me as a young musician about his music in the ‘60s was the fact that he seemed so independent-minded about his music, and didn’t conform to the machine,” said Dave Holland. “He had the courage to step out and speak out, and organize his own things. In 1967, at Ronnie Scott’s, I played for a full month opposite Max’s band with Jymie Merritt on bass, Stanley Cowell on piano, and Charles Tolliver on trumpet. and when I joined Miles in 1968, we played opposite him for three weeks at Count Basie’s in Harlem. Hearing their ideas about writing in 9/4 and 7/4 and 5/4 gave me great food for thought, and those seeds found their way into my music.”

In the late ’60s, Roach contracted Jack DeJohnette to play drums  with bassist Reggie Workman and pianist Cedar Walton in Abbey  Lincoln’s trio. “Max was an architect,” DeJohnette remembered. “When  he didn’t use piano, you could hear him comping, as if the piano were  there, in the way he painted a contour behind the soloist. I listened  and played to a lot of Max, which I still do sometimes, and I imitated  his solos, just to study them, although I went in another direction. I  loved Max and Clifford’s early records, the precision, the tight  arrangements, like ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You,’ almost like big band  arrangements in a small group, and executed with amazing  professionalism. They took great pains to give the best presentation  possible, because they wanted to be taken seriously.”

In the summer of 1970, Roach called Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Roy  Brooks, Omar Clay, Freddie Waits and Ray Mantilla to start the  percussion ensemble M’Boom. “When we got together, Max played  recordings of written music for percussion by people like Stockhausen,  Edgar Varese and Luigi Nono,” Chambers recalled. “He said, ‘This is  what we don’t want to do; the stuff is interesting, but it’s all  written out.’ It took us a while to get a concept as a group. I  emphasize the term ‘group.’ Max always emphasized collective instead  of autocratic, to go about the thing cooperatively.”

During these years Roach augmented his drum kit—which he called a  multiple percussion set—to incorporate an ever broader array of  sounds, articulating his designs and bringing out the voices of the  drums with his own distinctive tunings and command of timbre.

“You hear Max’s tuning everywhere,” said Billy Drummond. “He tuned  his upper tom-toms way up high, so that the mono-tom and floor tom  were intervals apart from each other—the distinction between the two  tom-toms and the bass drum and the snare drum made everything so  clear. That’s a hard tuning to play off of. Your mono-tom is so tight  that if your touch and control are not exact, the drum won’t lie—your  stuff will be shown up clear.”

Lewis Nash expands upon how Roach knew how to apply  the sonic nuances  of a drum kit to project his tonal personality.  “During the funk and  fusion era, when I came up, drums were tuned low and deep, almost dead  sounding,” Nash said. “With the true sense of pitch difference that  you get by tuning them high, you can create in a linear way. Max knew  how to use sound and space—he’d play a roll on the floor tom, in just  the right place, to approximate a tympani roll, or crash the cymbals  and just let them ring and die out. He’d breathe in his phrasing,  whether he was playing a solo or in an accompanying mode. I liked his  orchestrating mindset, and it continues to influence me in the way I  play time and approach outlining the form of a tune.”

During the ’60s, Roach used the voices of his drums to express his  views on the political struggles of the day. After recording the anthemic We Insist: Freedom Now Suite in 1960, he refined his  trapset-as-an-orchestra-of-percussion-instruments aesthetic on such  classics as Percussion Bitter Sweet and It’s Time, on a rhythmically  daring trio recital with Philadelphia pianist Hassan Ibn Ali, and on  Drums Unlimited, a 1965 date containing three solo drum performances.

“It was the first record I knew with drum solos that were not the ‘Hey, look what I can do’ kind of drum solo,” Drummond said. “They  were drum songs, and you could hum them. They were based on were a  series of Max’s, shall we say, licks—identifiable patterns that he put  put together in a compositional way to make musical statements with  themes, variations on themes, recapitulations and song form. Each  piece was complete, different than the other one.”

Then there was Roach’s unique beat. “Playing with him was the same  feeling that I would imagine John Coltrane had with Elvin Jones,” said  Charles Tolliver, Roach’s trumpeter of choice between 1967 and 1969.  “There’s such a cushion that you don’t have to think about playing  something rhythmically to get the drummer up to snuff. You were set  free to deal with the problem-solving of how to negotiate the song.”

“Max left a pocket for the bassist that made it easy for you to do  what you had to do,” Workman said. “Let’s deal with tempos, which was  Max’s forte. With certain drummers who flex their muscles but  understand how the elements connect together as Max did, it’s much  more difficult to make those fast tempos and play that time. Max  understood where those pockets were and how to deal with them. His  time feel was concise, and he was always into the notes of every  musician on the bandstand. With the odd rhythms, I noticed that he  would first examine the playing field, and then find some chant that  you’d know was one created by Max Roach.”

Sonny Rollins cherished the opportunities he had to create music  with Roach. “Max’s style was much more technical and polished than,  say, Art Blakey,” the saxophonist said. He quickly added, “I loved  playing with both of them, of course, as well as Elvin, Roy, Philly  Joe and all the guys. But because of who Max was, it put him into a  different category. It was like following in the footsteps in my idol,  Charlie Parker, playing with one of the gods of bebop. I look at him  as the original bebop drummer, and that put it on a different level.

“A guy who plays saxophone told me that he once played ‘St. Thomas’  from Saxophone Colossus for his father, and asked him what he thought  about it,” Rollins continued. “The guy said, ‘Well, the saxophone  plays OK, but boy, that drummer!’ That expresses the way I feel.” DB

 Max Roach: 1924–2007  

The iconic drummer Max Roach died of pneumonia on Aug. 16 in a  hospice in New York. Suffering from the effects of dementia and  Alzheimer’s Disease, he had been in assisted living for several years.  He was 83.

Born on Jan. 10, 1924, in Newland, N.C., and raised in Brooklyn,  Roach was the first jazz musician to treat the drum set both  functionally and as an autonomous instrument of limitless artistic  possibility. As a teenager, Roach paid close attention to “drummers  who could solo”—Jo Jones, Sid Catlett, Chick Webb, Cozy Cole. Toward  the end of his studies at Boys High School, he began riding the subway  from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Harlem for late-night sessions at Minton’s  Playhouse and Monroe’s uptown House, where the likes of Thelonious  Monk, Kenny Clarke and Dizzy Gillespie, all Roach’s elders by several  years, explored alternative approaches to the status quo.
By 1942, they had reharmonized blues forms and Tin Pan Alley  tunes, changing keys, elasticizing the beat and setting hellfire  tempos that discouraged weaker players from taking the bandstand when  serious work was taking place. Before World War II ended, the new  sound was sufficiently established to have a name—bebop.

Thoroughly conversant in how to push a big band—he hit the road  with Benny Carter in 1944 and 1945, and filled in for Sonny Greer with  Duke Ellington in early 1942—with four-to-the-floor on the bass drum  and tricks with the sticks, Roach made his first record in 1943 with  Coleman Hawkins, and played on Hawkins’ ur-bebop 1944 session with  Gillespie on which “Woody ’N’ You” debuted. But as Charlie Parker’s  primary drummer in 1944 and 1945 and from 1947–’49, Roach developed a  technique that allowed him to keep pace with and enhance Parker’s  ferocious velocities and ingenious rhythmic displacements. His famous  polyrhythmic solo on Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco” in 1951 foreshadowed  things to come in the next decade.

During the early 1950s, Roach studied composition at Manhattan  School of Music and co-founded, with Charles Mingus, Debut Records—one  of the first musician-run record companies. In 1954, he formed the Max  Roach–Clifford Brown Quintet, in which he elaborated his concept of  transforming the drum set into what he liked to call the multiple  percussion set, treating each component as a unique instrument, while  weaving his patterns into an elaborate, kinetic design. After the  death of Brown and pianist Richie Powell in 1956, he battled  depression and anger, but continued to lead a succession of bands with  saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, George Coleman, Stanley  Turrentine, Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, and Gary Bartz, trumpeters Kenny Dorham, Booker Little, Richard Williams, Freddie Hubbard, and Charles Tolliver, tubist Ray  Draper, and pianists Mal Waldron and Stanley Cowell.

Roach also performed as a sideman on such essential ’50s recordings  as Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners and Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone  Colossus and The Freedom Suite, as well as important dates by Herbie  Nichols, J.J. Johnson and Little. He interpolated African and  Afro-Caribbean strategies into his flow, incorporated orchestral  percussion into his drum set and worked compositionally with odd  meters, polyrhythm and drum tonality. He gave equal weight to both a  song’s melodic contour and its beat. “Conversations,” from 1953, was  his first recorded drum solo; by the end of the decade, he had  developed a body of singular compositions for solo performance built  on elemental but difficult-to-execute rudiments upon which he  improvised with endless permutations.

He continued to expand his scope through the ’60s. A long-standing  member of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Concord Baptist Church, he incorporated  the voice—both the singular instrument of his then-wife, Abbey  Lincoln, and also choirs—into his presentation. It was the height of  the Civil Rights Movement, and he used his music as a vehicle for  struggle, expressing views on the zeitgeist in both the titles of his  albums and compositions—“We Insist: The Freedom Now Suite”  (commissioned by the NAACP for the approaching centennial of the  Emancipation Proclamation), “Garvey’s Ghost,” “It’s Time”—and his  approach to performing them.

Roach joined the University of Massachusetts, Amherst faculty in  the early ’70s, and seemed to use the post as a platform from which to  broaden his expression. In 1971, he joined forces with a cohort of New  York-based percussionists to form M’Boom, a cooperative nine-man  ensemble that addressed a global array of skin-on-skin and mallet  instruments; and in the early ’80s he formed the Max Roach Double  Quartet, blending his group, the Max Roach Quartet with the Uptown  String Quartet, with his daughter, Maxine Roach. He recorded with a  large choir and with a symphony orchestra. A 1974 duet recording with  Abdullah Ibrahim launched a series of extraordinary musical  conversations with speculative improvisers Anthony Braxton, Cecil  Taylor and Archie Shepp; these sparked subsequent encounters with  pianists Connie Crothers,  Mal Waldron, and Randy Weston, and a 1989 meeting with his early mentor Gillespie.

He also reached out to artists representing other musical styles  and artistic genres—playing drums for break dancers and turntablists  in 1983; collaborating with Amiri Baraka on a musical about Harlem  numbers king Bumpy Johnson, and with Sonia Sanchez on drum-freestyle  improv; improvising to video images from Kit Fitzgerald and moves from  dancer Bill T. Jones; scoring plays by Shakespeare and Sam Shepard;  composing for choreographer Alvin Ailey; and setting up transcultural  hybrids with a Japanese koto ensemble, gitano flamenco singers, and an  ad hoc gathering of Jewish and Arab percussionists in Israel.

He was inducted by the Critics into the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 1980. In 1984, the National Endowment for the Arts named Roach a Jazz  Master, and in 1988 the MacArthur Foundation awarded him a “genius”  grant—the first jazz musician to receive one. The honors continued  until the end of his life: Induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame for  his Massey Hall recording on Debut with Parker, Gillespie, Powell and  Mingus; a Commander of Arts and Letters award from the French  government; and several honorary doctorates. —T.P.

Primary Influence  

You couldn’t copyright a drum beat when Max Roach invented his own  ingenious rhythmic designs. Otherwise, Roach would have earned a  percentage of almost every jazz record made after his 1947 classics  with Charlie Parker for Savoy and Dial. Here’s what several drummers  had to say about their early encounters with Roach’s music, and how it  impacted their playing.

Roy Haynes: “I listened to Max when he first recorded with Coleman  Hawkins. Then, BOOM! I fell in love with what I heard, the little  different beats he was playing. I heard him play the hi-hat and turn  the beat around, so to speak, like Papa Jo Jones did it, and I knew we  were related. Years ago, I heard him play something, and I said to  myself, ‘I thought of that same thing, too.’”

Jimmy Cobb: “Everybody was influenced by Max Roach in one way or  another. Some copied him almost verbatim—they did what they could. I  couldn’t do that, but I got some of the things that he could do, like  the independence, the way he played fast.”

Louis Hayes: “Max was the first New York person who influenced me. It  was his ability to stand out—his sound—and his technique. His thinking  ability was at such a high level, and he worked at it very hard and  for long periods of time. That allowed him to think of other ways to  approach this music, and he ventured off into different time  signatures, to be able to play solo, to play the whole kit, to use all  of his limbs, to play the bass drum in 4/4 and the sock cymbal in 2/4,  the way the drummers who were born before him did. He had that under  control, and those are facilities that a lot of younger drummers never  put together.”

Louis Bellson: “The first time I heard Max play with Charlie Parker  and Dizzy Gillespie in 1944 at the Three Deuces on 52nd Street, it  didn’t soak in right away, because it was a different kind of music. I  came from the hard-swinging, 4/4 band, and Max was throwing up such a  relaxed and yet marvelous feeling. The second time I went, I suddenly  realized that he was doing something new, that it had a purpose, that  he—and they—had down what they wanted to hear. The more I listened,  the more I realized that he’d come up with a new rhythm, a new style  of playing.

“When I played with Dizzy, Max told me, ‘Don’t play 4/4 on the bass  drum, Lou. Invent with it, accentuate on it.’ One time he said to me,  ‘Louis, you play great, but can I offer some criticism?’ I said,  ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘When you play ‘Cherokee,’ make sure you know what the  melody is and play around it. That gives you a chance to experiment.  It makes you interesting.’”

Chico Hamilton: “When I heard Max, I said, ‘Ain’t no way in the world  I can play like that.’ He could do things no other drummer could do.  He could do triplets faster than anyone, and he was Mr. Endurance. He  created a style of playing that everyone tried to play like.”

Joe Chambers: “Kenny Clarke more or less set up the modern jazz drum,  but Max Roach crystallized it. He put the multiple percussion set up  front with the rest of the instruments. You can hear phrases in his  playing. You hear statements. Motifs. You hear divisions of phrases,  the division of the song. Max was versatile. He would do stuff with an  orchestra, with an artist or videographer, a brass quintet, double  quartet, strings, M’Boom. Plus he’s a composer. To me, he is the  beacon. He taught me—he’s still teaching me—how to be in the  business.”

Billy Hart: “When I first saw Elvin Jones with Coltrane, before I could say anything to him he told me, ‘Look, don’t ask me to show you anything, because if I could show you, we would all be Max Roach.’ It’s like Max was born in the future. He went ahead of everybody to invent an academic way to play odd time signatures, and brought it back. He was the spokesman for the whole drum community, and that means the whole drum community in the world.”

Lenny White: “Max Roach was the benchmark. Everybody had to at least  try to be like him. He had drum battles with Philly Joe Jones, Roy Haynes , Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Art always won the drum  solos. But the fact is that Max was the professor. He made melodies  with the drums, and nobody tuned drums better than Max Roach. He was  also a composer, and he had great insight into how his drums related  to the composition and the other instruments in the band. He made  rudiments speak. Buddy Rich played great drum solos, but they were  mostly snare drum. Max played the whole kit. The greatest thing I  heard Max play on is a two-hour concert that was recorded live with  Dizzy Gillespie in Paris, just trumpet and drums in 1989. It’s  unbelievable! Those beats were a cross between New Orleans traditional  jazz rhythms and hip-hop rhythms—all those things were in what Max was  playing. Max Roach—and Tony Williams—were the scientists of the drums.  They took beats and stretched them, and did things that were unimaginable.” —T.P.

Roach Memorial Attracts Jazz Community and Beyond
“It’s a line as long as the Mississippi River,” a woman told a friend of the queue that surrounded Manhattan’s Riverside Church to view the  body of Max Roach, draped in a beautiful farewell suit, on the morning  of his Aug. 24 memorial service. Like many of the witnesses, she was  elderly and African-American, but the throng was multiracial, spanning  several generations and including many dignitaries, among them most of  the drummers in the New York metropolitan area who weren’t on the  road.

Stage right stood a drum stool and a hi-hat, unmanned, as trumpeter  Cecil Bridgewater, saxophonist Billy Harper and bassist Reggie  Workman—all members of Roach’s stretched-out 1970s quartet—played  “Nommo,” “’Round Midnight” and “Equipoise.” After five minutes of  silence, Reverend Dr. James Alexander Forbes included Psalm 139:1-18  in his invocation. Elvira Green sang the spiritual “City In Heaven” as  the pallbearers, who included Roach’s nephew Fred “Fab 5 Freddy”  Braithwaite and drummer Nasheet Waits, placed the coffin by the  pulpit.

Maya Angelou spoke of Roach’s brotherly guidance and support, of  marching with him and his then-wife Abbey Lincoln at the United  Nations in 1962 to protest the murder of Patrice Lumumba. Amiri  Baraka, the author of Roach’s unpublished biography, read “Digging  Man.” Congressman Charles Rangel read a letter from former President  Bill Clinton, Stanley Crouch positioned Roach as an innovator within a  uniquely American cultural matrix and Phil Schaap focused on the  imperatives of strength and manliness that animated both his art and  career. Randy Weston, who knew Roach when both were youngsters in  Brooklyn, and Billy Taylor, a friend from 52nd Street days, played  solo piano. Jimmy Heath played “There Will Never Be Another You” on  soprano saxophone, and Cassandra Wilson sang “Lonesome Lover.” The  Reverend Calvin Butts of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church delivered  a sly, stirring eulogy in which he declared Roach possessed by the  Holy Ghost.

It took Bill Cosby, though, to nail the essence of Roach’s  greatness. Taking the podium, he announced, “Why I became a comedian is because of Max Roach.” He paused for just the right amount of time.  “I wanted to be a drummer.” He related how, on his $75 drum set, he  learned to execute a reasonable facsimile of Vernell Fournier’s  “Poinciana” beat, then copied Art Blakey’s patterns on “Moanin’” after  watching the masters do it in person. But while playing along with  Roach’s high-octane late-’50s records, he was stymied by the  crisply  executed lightning tempos. “I kept falling behind,” Cosby said. “The left hand said, ‘Look, you play,’ and the right hand said, ‘Well, if  you play, then I lose,’ and I said, ‘Well, just hit the bass drum and  then try to catch up and … oh, just do something!”

Despite these difficulties, when Roach brought his latest edition to Philadelphia’s Showboat, Cosby figured he could scope out Roach’s secret.  “He had  a blue blazer on with some kind of crest,” Cosby recalled. “One of my boys said, ‘Max got a boat.’ The musicians warmed up. Max sat down.  His face never changed.” Cosby sang Roach’s beat. “I went home,” he  said. “It was no tricks. Nothing I could take.”

Cosby casually slipped on his bebop shades. “I finally met him in  person to the point where Max Roach knew who I was,” he said. “I said,  ‘Let me tell you something. You owe me $75.’”

After the service, across the street from the church in Riverside  Park, an impromptu choir of African drummers and flutists played as a  convoy of hearses and limousines carried Roach’s coffin to Woodlawn  Cemetery in the Bronx.

At Kenny Washington’s instigation, a gaggle of drummers—including  Rashied Ali, Candido, Joe Chambers, Bruce Cox, Sylvia Cuenca, Billy  Drummond, Louis Hayes, Ray Mantilla, Eric McPherson, T.S. Monk, Adam  Nussbaum, John Riley, Bobby Sanabria, Nasheet Waits, Jeff Watts and  Leroy Williams—strolled two blocks north to the steps of Grant’s Tomb  for a group photo. At the count of five, several dozen shutters  clicked simultaneously as they yelled in unison, “Max Roach, Max  Roach, Max Roach, Max Roach!!”

He will be missed.

“One thing that troubles me is that Max was the sole patriarch and spokesman for the whole drum community,” said Billy Hart. “He’s the guy who spoke at all the funerals, like a priest or something. Nobody else. He was the spokesman for the whole drum community, and that means the whole drum community in the world.”

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