Who Walk In Brooklyn. (Max was a Brooklyn kid -- he grew up in Bed-Stuy.)
There was a semester in the late 1980s at UMass, where both Roach and Shepp taught, during which they would have weekly afternoon sessions in the Hatch, one the university bars. There was never really more than 8 of us in the audience. The happy hour beers were $1.50 or so. A half a dozen private concerts by Roach and Shepp--my introduction to jazz. Enviable, no?
But as amazing as he was as a drummer, we must be sure to celebrate him as far more than simply a master instrumentalist. (Though for that alone, he earned immortality.) As I got to learn more about his career, and heard more from other musicians who were friends and collaborators of his, like Braxton or Cecil Bridgewater or Warren Smith, I saw what a profoundly innovative and truly revolutionary artist he was. He refused to accept the boundaries imposed upon him by others, be it race or genre or discipline; he exploded definitions while creating art that was relevant, vibrant, and always searching.
It's probably not an exaggeration to say that Roach changed drumming the way Liszt changed piano playing.
Via Phil Freeman (Running The Voodoo Down), this classic clip:
His place in the pantheon of jazz greats long since secured, Roach collaborated with drummers from around the world, with a string quartet that featured daughter Maxine, and with rapper Fab Five Freddy.
"I try to show my students the correlation between hip-hop and Louis Armstrong," he once said. "That's how well-rooted hip-hop is, coming out of an environment where people were denied any kind of cultural enrichment."
But maybe that appellation "old guard" didn't really suit Roach, a rebel who never stopped challenging the formal boundaries of jazz. Forget what I wrote a couple paragraphs ago; Max Roach never grew old.
I'll have my own remembrance up once I get the chance to collect my thoughts.
The winner, Carl Payne, a gripman who over the years won the contest ten times, showed up one afternoon at Keystone Korner with a cable car bell mounted on a frame. Roach was waiting at his drum set. Mr. Payne could meter on that cumbersome brass bell. He invented patterns that stimulated Max and the two spent a half hour or so playing for, to and with one another. I have never heard anything quite like it -- Max Roach trading fours with a cable car gripman. It made a good story on that evening's six o'clock newscast, and a memory that has stayed with me for a quarter of a century.
Many obits will stick to those historic moments and they are indeed impressive. But Max Roach never rested on his laurels. Like few others, he spanned jazz history from bebop to the furthest reaches of the avant garde. And unlike many of his peers, Roach restlessly sought to play in different contexts and embrace new musical modes. He embodied the idea that music was one great continuum and shredded the received notion the avant and the tradition were somehow at odds.
Ethan Iverson — Do The Math. (Be sure to check out the audio clips.)
The 1953 records of "Confirmation" and "Chi-Chi" with Al Haig and Percy Heath feature the highest-level ensemble playing recorded in a studio with Parker. If Percy and Max showed up anywhere in the world right now playing just how they played for Bird in 1953 they could take anybody's gig. (This is not true of the performances of the bass and drums on most classic bebop.)
The tributes keep pouring in:
NPR's Morning Edition. (With links to his appearances on Jazz Profiles and Piano Jazz.)
Ben Ratliff (NYT) has a selected discography, with commentary. Unfortunately, he lists nothing from between 1962 and 1989. Many of these recordings are unfortunately out of print (including the double quartet dates), but you can get the first (self-titled) M'Boom record, Birth and Rebirth (duets with Braxton), and In The Light (with his 80's quartet) from iTunes.
If only so many of those who will be lauding Roach from the lofty edifice of jazz education would recognize that he didn't just help to create a style, but that he continued to push the music, and continued to recognize and support others who were pushing the music, far past the crystallization point of bebop in the 1950s.
We all mourn in our own way, of course; what's "appropriate" is what feels right. As for me, I choose the celebratory mode, both in pondering Max's life and the "state of jazz." For one thing, Max's contribution to music (indeed, to art) was not limited to something finite, like the elements of a style (he swung in such and such a way, he pioneered the use of this piece of the kit, etc.). Those things are of course important, but like Ellington, Zappa, Mingus, Monk, and umpteen other heroes of mine, Max left behind what Joseph Conrad called a "how to be": in this case, a philosophy of artistic survival, vitality, and growth (one of the elements of which was a sense that art is socially important -- imagine that!).
Dave Rawkblog — The Rawking Refuses To Stop! gives it up for Money Jungle.
[T]his is not an Ellington album any more than it is a Roach album or a Mingus album. Everyone deserves top billing here, and they certainly earn it: take the title track, where Mingus goes nuts with desperate high-fret machine-gunning before slipping back to the lower register and letting Roach take center stage.
"Hip-Hop is complete theater," Roach told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. "These kids don't have rhetoric courses, so they've created their own script in rhyme--it's verbal improvisation. They don't have formal musical training, so they make music from the tones and rhythms of human speech--they'll sample Malcolm X saying, 'Too black, too strong.' They've even created their own instrument--the turntable. They have nothing but the inclination to be involved. And like Louis Armstrong, out of nothing they create something."
The jazz world today–like the world of constitutional interpretation–is lousy with neocons seeking to etch the old verities in stone, protecting them from heretical impurity. But for Roach jazz was a living art form and the spirit of jazz WAS the spirit of innovation, that’s why, in his teens he could play with Duke Ellington and in his 60s he could play with Fab Five Freddy. There’s no doubt that Roach’s legacy as a drummer is secure. But I suspect that for Roach, a man who was both musician and educator, his lessons of innovation and imagination would be just as important.
He was a virtuoso in the best sense of the word, but also a poet- no drummer ever had a sweeter touch or a more effortless sense of swing. Jazz fans like to talk about how hard a drummer swings, but with Max Roach it never sounded hard, but cool and electric.
On a personal level, he was a key figure in opening my eyes and ears to jazz in particular and a wider range of musical possibility in general. In high school, when I was still at the stage where Neal Peart seemed like the pinnacle of percussion prowess, Roach gave a clinic that I attended. I was completely awed by what he could accomplish with nothing more than a high-hat.
Max Roach was born in New Land, N.C., on Jan. 10, 1924. His family moved four years later to a Brooklyn apartment, where a player piano left by the previous tenants gave Roach his musical introduction. Using player piano rolls of Jelly Roll Morton and Albert Ammons, Roach played along by putting his fingers on the keys and pedals as they rose and fell.
There are far too many wonderful tributes coming in from all corners of blogdonia for me to keep up with -- remember, Google Blog Search is your friend. (And if you have authored something good that I missed, don't be shy about letting people know about it in the comments.)
Here are just a few more:
I listened to Steve Lacy, Peter Brötzmann, and a couple others, but generally thought jazz was dead. Then there was a piece on the radio in that winter landscape that truly stunned me. It turned out to be a recent piece by Max Roach from 1991. Just a few years ago I came across a journal entry I had made later that day. It was one sentence written to myself in bold letters, as if an epiphanic answer to some torturous metaphysical conundrum, that read: "More Max Roach!"
And here is information about the memorial at Riverside Church:
A public viewing will be held at Riverside Church for jazz great Max Roach, who died of complications of dementia/Alzheimer's Disease at 12:45 a.m. Thursday in New York at the age of 83. His daughters Maxine and Dara were at his bedside, according to family spokesperson, Terrie M. Williams.
Roach's public viewing will be held on Friday, August 24 at Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive in Manhattan from 9:00 A.M. to 10:30 A.M. with a funeral service from 11:00 A.M. to 1 P.M. The legendary drummer will be buried in a private ceremony at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
Born on January 10, 1924 in Newland, North Carolina -- which he always referred to as "the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina" -- Roach is survived by his five children Daryl Roach, Maxine Roach, Raoul Roach, Ayo Roach and Dara Roach.
The family issued a statement: "We are deeply saddened by his passing, yet heartened and thankful for the many blessings and condolences we have received during as we grieve. As a musician, educator and social activist, are fortunate to share his life and his legacy with the world."
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl. 17, Chicago, Ill. 60601- 7633, http://www.alz.org/.