I can't recall the reason why I picked Percussion Bitter Sweet out of a record store bin in the mid-sixties. It was one of the first recordings I ever purchased. Apart from Max's brilliant drumming and knotty yet accessible compositions, it served as an introduction to iconic musicians like Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Clifford Jordan, Mal Waldron, Art Davis, and Abbey Lincoln. Several years later, I experienced Max's mastery of the drums in person. Spanning just a portion of his visionary work, the formats were a solo concert, a hi-hat cymbal tribute to Papa Jo Jones combined with personal reminiscences about Clifford Brown, a duo concert with Cecil Taylor, and Max's last quartet.
When Max Roach died on August 16th, 2007, at the age of 83, I started organizing a tribute as a means of giving thanks to a man who inspired me for over four decades. The Max Roach Tribute Project enabled me to see the range and depth of Max's accomplishments through the eyes of drummers who truly understand the nature of his contributions to the jazz tradition. The generosity of the musicians who took time out of their busy lives to talk and write about Max was genuinely touching. My sincere thanks to everyone who participated.
Max was an icon, not just for American music, but for music in general. He was a pioneer, taking the drum set and percussion to the forefront. Max was one of the few guys who would do solo concerts that were unbelievable, sustaining the majority of people's attention for an hour or two. You were transcended beyond the issue of him just playing drums. M'Boom [the percussion ensemble] allowed drummers to come from the back of the stage to the front of the stage, in their own respective groups, from Joe Chambers to Warren Smith, to a number of other guys.
Max's whole career was really about embracing as opposed to alienating other forms of art. When I first came to New York in the early '80s, Max would have duo concerts with rappers. And guys with beat boxes and Max. Or Max and a guy break dancing. And that was revolutionary for its time because a lot of musicians of his generation were really turning their nose up at this other art form that was being createdhip hop, rap, and all that stuff. Max's thing was about trying to keep the music moving forward.
The other thing that was great about Max was the way he utilized the instrument very much like an orchestra. He was one of the first guys to really take a melodic approach to the instrument, where it wasn't just about rudiments and it wasn't just about playing time.
Max had what I would call a very military style of drumming. As a kid growing up, it reminded me very much of the Drum and Bugle Corps. Very clean. Very crisp. I remember asking Max onceI said, "Max, what do you practice? He looked as if somebody was watching us, and said, "Singles and doubles. And that's all he would say. So I said, "So really, Max, what do you practice? This went on for 10 to 15 minutes. And that's all he would say. Finally he looked at me and grabbed my shoulder. He said, "Carl, everything you play is single or double or multiple bounce. That's it. That took me back to the drawing board of trying to decipher some of the things he would play. The way he would orchestrate and articulate just using simple concepts like dynamics and changes in sticking and accents, and where he would place them, really made a world of difference.
Max was always very helpful to me. When I joined Freddie Hubbard, Max was one of the first people to come down and hear me with Freddie, to congratulate me, and to just sit down and talk to me. One of the things I learned from Max is that you always have to be proud and represent yourself at the highest possible level. Max said that was one of the things Papa Jo Jones taught him. Every time you leave the house you're still a musician. You have to be mindful of how you dress. People are always going to look at you. Max was a gentleman. He would always shake your hand and look you in the eye. These sorts of things for me, a musician just coming to town, were really important.
Max is someone we'll dearly miss, but his imprint is here to stay.
My dad was an avid record collector. His guys were Max, Philly Joe Jones, and Art Blakey. He had the first record I heard of Max Roach, Gene Norman Presents Max Roach and Clifford Brown In Concert. They played "Perisian Throroughfare, "I Can't Get Started, and "Jordu. When I heard the way Max's drums sounded, the way he played, the phrasing, and all that kind of stuff, I just went nuts!