A Beat Drops: Max Roach Passes

Max Roach: January 10, 1924 – August 16, 2007
A true Titan of 20th century music, one of the principal architects of Be-Bop and a voice of liberation in the black community, Max Roach has passed.
Roach wasn’t just a drummer, but a musical conceptualist. Whether orchestrating polyrhythmic equations behind Charlie Parker or tuning the universe with his percussion ensemble, M’Boom, Max Roach went well beyond the role of a beat master. Albums like We Insist: Freedom Now Suite planted Roach in the vanguard of the civil rights movement and in the leading edge of post-Ellington orchestrations.

Max Roach didn’t just play with everybody, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins. He elevated everyone with whom he played. Never a traditionalist, Roach went outside anybody’s comfort zone and recorded with the cream of the avant-garde including Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, and Abdullah Ibrahim. His M’Boom percussion group was in the vanguard of world music. With timbales, marimba, vibes, xylophone, tympani, bells and steel drums, it predates percussion projects like Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum by more than a decade. (Although Mickey Hart’s Diga Rhythm Band came out 4 years before).
Percussion Bitter Sweet

Roach’s 80’s quartet with saxophonist Odean Pope, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater and bassist Calvin Hill was among the most protean bands in jazz.
I was fortunate to interview Roach at his home in 1981 for a documentary on Charlie Parker. He was gracious, candid, and revealed the kind of erudition that always made him the scholar in a room full of very smart guys. And he could do more in 10 minutes with just a pair of sticks and a hi-hat cymbal than most musicians can accomplish with an orchestra.

Max Roach played his last beat on August 16, 2007

Comment posted by
at 8/16/2007 4:53:22 PM

Condolences and remembrances of Mr. Roach may be added to the online Guest Book created for him on Legacy.com at http://www.legacy.com/GB/GuestbookView.aspx?PersonId=92742878.

Comment posted by
at 8/20/2007 6:43:52 PM

Not only was the “We Insist” with Abbey Lincoln project revolutionary-John, you forgot his famous band with the late great trumpeter Clifford Brown. He often augmented his last working group with a string quartet with his daughter Maxine in it.

I LOVED the M’Boom records-I always wanted to play them on Star’s End (they fit, but my conception of Star’s End includes jazz, world music, early music, Celtic folk, classical and some rock (Beck’s “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” works perfectly after anything with an esraj,) and has always been much wider (and I dare say, far more interesting) than the obligatory two hours of testosterone drive sequencer music-and we wonder why women don’t listen to ambient music?

I’m moving off topic here-Max “integrated” the great swing era tenor player Coleman Hawkins into “Freedom Now” much the way Monk did with Bean on “Ruby, My Dear.” SACDs have made me realize what a great drummer Philly Joe Jones was-can’t wait until Impulse releases Max Roach’s “It’s Time” on SACD.

Just before he passed, I saw a clip on You Tube of Max, Coleridege Perkinson on piano, Clifford Jordan on tenor, Henry Grimes on bass, and Max’s then wife Abbey Lincoln doing “Driver Man;” incredibly powerful stuff. A huge talent, a protean talent, he will be missed-Just about the only living link to that era is Sonny Rollins

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