Max Roach, 83, drummer, bandleader, composer, educator.
Newland, NC, January 10, 1924New York, NY, August 15, 2007.
Max Roach, widely deemed the most innovative percussionist in contemporary jazz and a composer who leaped the boundaries of four-four time and standard instrument combinations, died August 15 in a New York hospice. He was 83 and had suffered for several years with dementia.
Roach "built on the innovations of Kenny Clarke, elaborating the style, bringing more complex cross-rhythms into play, and employing greater textural variety," notes The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz.
The drummer had fast hands and could keep several rhythms going at once, often at breakneck tempos.
A self-taught prodigy, Maxwell Roach was born January 10, 1924, in tiny Newland, North Carolina, and raised in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn, New York.
Already known at age 16 in 1940, he filled in for three nights for Duke Ellington's drummer, Sonny Greer, at the Paramount Theater. That led to the renowned Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, where he was instrumental in the genesis of bebop.
In late 1943 he made his recording debut with the Coleman Hawkins Quartet, and then worked with Dizzy Gillespie in the first bebop group to hit 52nd Street. Both men took part in a Hawkins-led session for the Apollo label that many consider the first bop recording date.
Roach then toured and recorded with Benny Carter's big band, which included Gillespie and Charlie Parker. He worked and recorded with Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Stan Getz and almost every other important artist in modern jazz.
He was a member of Parker's seminal 1947-1949 quartet while also studying at the Manhattan School of Music. Moving from sideman to co-leader in 1954, he formed a quintet with the brilliant young trumpeter, Clifford Brown. In June 1956, Brown and their pianist, Richie Powell, perished in an auto accident. The tragedy had a profound impact on Roach, but he recovered to perform and compose in a wide spectrum of settings, including solo and all-percussion ensemble performances, duets with avant-garde players like the pianist Cecil Taylor and the saxophonist Anthony Braxton.
He composed the scores for Alvin Alley dance works and for three Sam Shepard plays, which brought him an Obie award. He also worked with video artists, gospel choirs and hip-hop performers.
In 1972 he joined the University of Massachusetts music faculty. Among many career honors, Roach was the first jazz recipient, in 1988, of the prestigious (and lucrative) MacArthur Fellowship Award. He was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1992.
The new century found Roach still touring with his quartet and actively composing. In 2002 he wrote and played the score for "How to Draw a Bunny," a documentary film about the New York underground artist, Ray Johnson. Some 368 career recording sessions are detailed by the discographer Tom Lord.
His last album, Friendship (Columbia, 2002), reunited Max Roach, then 78, and the 81-year-old trumpeter and flugelhornist Clark Terry in a quartet with Don Friedman on piano and Marcus McLaurine on bass. The last of 12 tracks is titled "To Basie, with Love."
Art Davis, 73, bassist, psychologist, educator.
Harrisburg, PA, December 5, 1933Long Beach, CA, July 29, 2007.
Art Davis, a crossover jazz and classical bassist, and a university professor who earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and practiced that profession along with music for many years, was a musician's musician, described as beyond category.
Davis died July 29 of a heart attack at his Long Beach, California home. He was 73.
Excelling in all genres, Arthur Davis started with the Harrisburg and Philadelphia symphonies, moving on to the NBC-TV, Westinghouse-TV and CBS orchestras, and working in Broadway show bands. By the late 1950s and 1960s, Davis was a familiar figure on the New York jazz scene, working with Max Roach and recording with John Coltrane's and Dizzy Gillespie's bands. He also played with Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Louis Armstrong.
When he encountered hiring discrimination and was blacklisted on the white classical scene, Davis, an African-American, sued the New York Philharmonicand lost. He also lost work, but enrolled in the doctoral program at New York University and earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1981. For many years he practiced psychology and played music.
According to the critic Nat Hentoff, the Davis experience led to the "blind audition," where evaluators hear the music but don't see the person playing. "I wouldn't be Dr. Art Davis if it hadn't happened," the bassist said in an interview with Double Bassist.