A Tribute To Max Roach

David A. Orthmann By

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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.

Carl Allen

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 created—hip 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 once—I 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.

Billy Drummond

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!

Max was the first guy whose style I could kind of emulate. It was a little bit more approachable then, say, Philly Joe Jones or Art Blakey. Just because of my inability to be able technically to play some of Philly Joe's things, or to play with the same kind of fervor and dynamo style of Art. I could approach Max's way in terms of playing melodically and thematically. I could play a fraction of it. But when I got deeper into it I realized that conceptually, it may have been technically more demanding. Things like Drums Unlimited, some of the solo pieces, and trying to play along with some of those tempos.

The first time I saw Max play, the thing that struck me the most about him was the way he carried himself. Just the way he walked. When he walked on stage to speak, he struck me as very strong, extremely poised, and self-assured. Not in an arrogant, cocky way, but in a strong, confident way. I was moved just looking at him.

Later on in my adult life when I started to play with guys from that era, like Sonny Rollins and J.J Johnson, I realized that they too carried themselves in the same way. This struck me as a very familiar thing. Then I realized that it was the same way my father carried himself. My father was from the same era. And my uncles and some of the men in the neighborhood I grew up in who I knew all my life. A lot of African American men from that particular time, who had gone through the Depression and the post Depression, the war and post war, and all of the other things that went along with society in America. They had done well and had a way about them that was unique.

Max carried that same kind of character when he sat at the drums. He sat up straight. He was very accurate. There was no guessing what he was going to play and what he played. It was very well thought out, and well articulated. There was no, "What was that? It was exactly what it was. You couldn't play it, but you could hear it.

Max was always very nice to me. I got a chance to be around him four or five times. He didn't come to hear me, but he came to Bradley's and I happened to be working there. It was pretty nerve racking to have him sitting right there. I got through the set and did OK. We hung out and talked for quite some time after the gig. I asked him about drums and about Gretsch drums. All of that kind of drum geek stuff. He was real cool and laid everything out for me. Every time I was around him he was a true gentleman, and exactly what I imagined an idol to be like.

Vince Ector

In my opinion, Max Roach defined jazz royalty. Just being in his presence made you feel like you had witnessed something that was a rare occurrence, to be studied and reflected upon long after hearing him perform. He definitely influenced my approach to the drum set by showing me that the drummer should be a complete musician in order to really contribute something special to this music we all love dearly.

Lou Grassi

I began playing the drums at age 15. I didn't really know anything about jazz, but I knew enough to decide that it was the music I most wanted to learn about. Of course I knew about Buddy Rich. A young drummer in the mid-1960s couldn't help but be aware of Buddy. I was playing for a month or two when my teacher, Richie Moore, lent me a record called Rich Versus Roach. Max's melodicism won me over. I knew within minutes the musical direction I would follow. Max was my first major influence and he continues to inspire me to this day. He set such a high standard as a drummer, bandleader, educator, composer, and human being whose social and political consciousness compelled him to speak out, that one can only strive to follow his example. Thank you, Max. Rest in Peace.

Ari Hoenig

Max Roach proved that drums can be a solo instrument able to play themes, variations and melodically cohesive phrases.

I was especially influenced by his solo record Drums Unlimited, showing that the drums could stand on their own as a solo instrument and did not need to always be simply backing up a soloist or keeping time for a band.

Max was a forward thinker and besides playing and recording solo he had various duo projects with the likes of Charles Mingus and Cecil Taylor. He would constantly challenge himself to be more and more creative, and the idea of pushing the envelope was of utmost importance to him.

Carmen Intorre

Max Roach was a drummer's drummer. He proved that drums can be a solo instrument able to play theme, variations, and rhythmically cohesive phrases. Max was such a melodic player because he really understood harmony; he even studied composition. Max was also a wonderful percussionist, composer, and arranger. He collaborated with choreographers, film makers, and even co-founded Debut Records in 1952 along with Charles Mingus. Roach was a visionary and was always experimenting with different sounds and textures to propel the music to another fresh level. An example would be the groundbreaking free improvisational duo record he made with Mingus called Percussion Discussion, released on Debut Records. We musicians cannot help but to be influenced by all of the records he made with Bird, Diz, and Brownie. Simply classics. I also have to mention a few other records that have really helped me to develop as a drummer. Money Jungle, a 1962 trio recording with Duke and Mingus, Rich Versus Roach, a drum battle between Max and Buddy Rich, and Drums Unlimited, which includes several tracks that are entirely drum solos. And I cannot forget the rhythm he composed and played on Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco. Layering rhythms on top of rhythms, he paid as much attention to the song's melody as to its beat. He described his approach to music as "the creation of organized sound. A true genius. He will be missed.

Kevin Jones

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