IN MEMORIAM: MAX ROACH – 1924 – 2007
Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules of drumming in the 1940’s and spent the rest of his career breaking musical barriers and defying listeners’ expectations, died August 16 in Manhattan. He was 83.
A TRIBUTE TO MAX ROACH: BY JOEL G. KLAUBER
Max Roach was one of the most consummate artists in jazz, be it as a brilliant drummer and soloist, a challenging leader, and a talented writer. Roach, along with Kenny Clarke, started the bop revolution in drumming. While Clarke was the actual pioneer, Roach really brought the style to fruition and to its peak, with astounding technique and melodic drum solos.
Clarke is credited with influencing percussive timekeeping, by way of transferring the timekeeping element from the snare and bass drums to the ride cymbal, with appropriate accents on the snare and bass drums. Max extended Clarke’s foundation via his snare, tom-tom and bass drum work, with each drum working independently as both sensitive accompanist and melodic soloist. Max Roach was not merely a timekeeper. He virtually invented the concept of communication between drummer and soloist.
Unlike Clarke and Blakey, Roach explored classical percussion, symphony, odd time signatures (way before Dave Brubeck, God bless him), music derived from Broadway musicals, etc. Indeed, he had been a Professor of Music at Amherst for some year.
Roach’s drum solos were among the most melodic—and perhaps the only—drum solos jazz has ever known where one could actually hear the melody of the song. And this was played, most of the time, on four drums.
He always has had the curiosity to move forward stylistically and grow as a musician.
Roach’s recording career spanned fifty years, from the 1940s through the 1990s. His greatest works? With The Charlie Parker Quintet from 1945 to 1947, his own group with Clifford Brown from 1954 to 1956, and his astounding duets in later years with Dizzy Gillespie and avant gardist Anthony Braxton.
In terms of listening suggestions, there are many, but Max Roach expanded the horizons of percussion in such albums as “Jazz in ¾ Time,” “Max Roach: Percussion Bitter Sweet” (featuring the great trumpet of Booker Little), and “It’s Time,” where Roach experimented with the use of voices in the ensemble.
No, you didn’t see Max on the Johnny Carson or Merv Griffin shows (though he was on the David Frost program). But Max Roach, like Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, Sid Catlett, Dave Tough, Chick Webb and Kenny Clarke before him, forever influenced and dictated the way drums were and are played.
Max Roach was the father of modern jazz drumming. His innovations and contributions changed the way drums were played. As a timekeeper, he had few equals. As a soloist, his drum solos were literally “horn-like,” in that he played actual choruses and actual melodies. He pioneered the use of odd time signatures in jazz long before those who ultimately received credit for it. Max Roach was one of the few musicians in history who evolved through several “schools” of jazz, from swing to bop to hard bop to avant-garde. As a human being? You wouldn’t have thought it, but Max was a frequent visitor to the bedside of Buddy Rich during Buddy’s final illness. In fact, Max said at the time, plans were underway to record a “Rich versus Roach” Volume Two before Buddy became ill. Now that would have been something, but perhaps, wherever Roach and Rich are now, they can finally pull it off.
Dr. Bruce H. Klauber
I remember the first and only time (maybe thirty years ago) I saw Max play at the a club in Harlem (at one time it was the Cotton club, according to Grady.) Grady Tate took me there and I just sat directly behind him the whole night and just took in everything. After watching Max and trying to absorb as much I could from this rare and great opportunity. The things that stuck with me were I realized where Tony (Williams) evolved from and his posture was straight and balanced, which made his playing effortless. For some strange reason what really stuck with me was right after the downbeat of the first song his left stick went flying and he never lost a beat (he looked over his shoulder because he must have known I was studying him and shot me a confident smile.)To be honest that made me feel good because if the great Max Roach can drop a stick and it is ok for Danny Seraphine to drop a stick. So now whenever I drop a stick no matter, where or how,I think of one of the greatest drummers ever to grace this planet and smile. Grady later introduced us and he said he liked my band Chicago, that made me so proud. We’ve lost a national treasure and must never forget him. He gave so much and got so little in return, but he will never be forgotten.
I would like to extend my sincere condolences to Max’s family. What a loss to the drumming community. Max was a pioneer and visionary. His artistic integrity and his elegant style always were- and will always be- a source of inspiration for me.
Thank you for the music Mr. Roach.
Max Roach was a special individual. He was a man of integrity with a social conscience who was concerned with the human condition. His efforts helped to make the world a better place. He expanded the language of music and the drums. What he gave us all is eternal. Thank you!
One of the greatest protagonists of making the drum set a truly “musical” instrument has left us. A firm believer of the concept that the drummer was not just a supportive rhythm player but a true musician, many people don’t know that Max received a bachelor of music degree in composition from the Manhattan School of Music way back in 1955. I performed on several occasions with maestro Roach because I was fortunate to be Mario Bauza’s drummer. He exuded jazz’s two main aesthetic values, truth and freedom. He always, I mean always, when the question came up, publicly stated that Latino musicians have never been given the credit they so rightfully deserved to have in terms of jazz’s history. For his musicianship and his acknowledgement of the contributions of our community, he was truly loved. The drum speaks and Max was a great coversationalist. How could he not be, he was a modern day griot. 🙂 Just as he was eloquent on the instrument, he was eloquent and out spoken in his life off of the band stand. Just as he was a musical revolutionary, he was also a socio-political revolutionary. He was quick to point out injustices, not only in the industry, but also in our political system, long before it became the norm to do so by popular artists of the time. He once told me that historically any great evolution/revolution in any style of music comes from the instruments that play rhythm. It didn’t matter if it was orchestral music, grunge, funk, Latin American music, etc. So true, as Max and Kenny Clarke proved, in the case of jazz, with their innovative approach to co-ordinated independence, phrasing, interpretion, and especially in Max’s case, his greatest contribution, melodicism applied to the kit. There is great sadness in NYC. Visionary poet Sekou Sundiata, Mario Rivera, the ultimate sideman, saxophonist, flutist, multi-intrumentalist, bassist Art Davis, and now Max, the person who truly made the multiple percussion set (as he called it) a source of melodic invention, have all left us. Thank heavens, besides the memories, we have their recordings and writings, which immortalize their contributions live so that we can continue to be, and the next generation may be, inspired.
My sincere condolensces to the family.Ibae y ache’ (respect and positive energy),
On Sat 08/18/07 I did a gig with my power trio and spontaneously went into a tribute on drums to the legendary genius of jazz drumming, Max Roach. Let’s all play Max Roach quotes on the gig if we can. It would be a small but fitting tribute all around the world. I’m going to quote Max on every gig I play for the month of August 2007. When I was a kid my beloved bandleader Al Korah said “kiddee when you grow up you gotta learn to sound like Max!” When I played with Dizzy Gillespie in 1989, I had my friend Paris Wright sit in on drums in the middle of a piece we were playing. Diz was not amused… Diz said to me: “Don”t you ever do that again… and in the middle of my solo too! … but then Diz gave my friend Paris the ultimate compliment – He laughed and said… “But you know what? THE BOY SOUND LIKE MAX!!!!!!” 🙂
Max Roach was, is and will be the ultimate example of a student and teacher of history in music, internalizing the drumming vocabulary that came before him and taking it to a level that changed the sound and shape of drumming forever. May he rest in peace…internal love and light.
When I started to play drums at 12, I remember seeing a video of this sensational drummer that could not only play amazing drum solos, but great melodies inside the drum solos as well,I was totally static seeing this talented drummer.. I discovered the great legend, Max Roach. 18 years later I still get amazed and learn from this master in the art of musical drumming, superb cymbal work and amaizing time signatures. He will be greatly missed, God bless his soul.
I was 8 years old. My father had a big collection of jazz records. One day, because I used to listen his records, he asked me: “do you know a drummer named Max Roach? -No I answered. “Listen!!” and he tooks “Deeds not Words” from his collection. “Max has developped melodic solos” he told me. One of the best example is “Conversation”. I was blow’n away!!! It was the first time I’d listen such thing! Max Roach is responsible for my vocation. He was my main influence beetween 8 and 15. Now I always play drums, but I have got the chance to write article for french magazine Batteur magazine, and I prepare an article about Max. He was one of the last jazz living legend…
JBPerraudin, Paris France.
Max was one of the last great legends we have had with us to help us relive what I consider to be modern music’s greatest revolutionary breakthrough: JAZZ. It is rare to live in the same era with someone who is considered to be an innovator, an individual who makes an unprecedented contribution to a movement or cause. Yet, this is what Max was. Like many young drummers today I’ve never had the privelege of meeting him, but I have surely studied him! I realize that his contribution to the drums is crucial to understanding the evolution of the art form. In fact, I feel safe to say that a study in modern Drumming would be incomplete without a study in max. So, as we move forward may we continue to love the instrument and love the music as Max did and his legacy will contiue to live on in generations to come.
I remember walking past the Blue Note and seeing that Max was going to be there with M’Boom I immediately bought tickets. Having played with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble I was excited to see how Max and his friends would approach playing in a percussion ensemble. The show was mind blowing for me and shall remain in my mind and ears forever. My condolences to the Roach family for their loss.
Max Roach was a beautiful player and his art is the most sensual I have ever heard.
One of the last of the truly great jazz music stylists, a true innovator. He will be sorely missed. He took the drum kit and put it up front with the horns where it truly belongs.
THIS IS PHILLY LEGENDARY DRUMMER LUCKY THOMPSON. I AM SADDEN TO HEAR OF THE PASSING OF A MUSICAL ICON. I LAST SAW MAX @ FISK UNIVERSITY WHERE I WAS PERFORMING FOR THE STUDENT BODY, WE GOT A CHANCE TO TALK A BIT. HE HAS LEFT HIS MARK UPON THE MUSICAL WORLD. THEIR WILL NOT BE ANOTHER LIKE HIM. AND TO ALL THE YOUNG DRUMMERS I SAY, FOLLOW IN THE FOOT STEPS OF A LEGEND !!
Con molta tristezza, apprendo della scomparsa di Max Roach, mi unisco, con molta umiltà, al cordogllio di tutti.
Max Roach played tunes. I first heard him on recordings with Charlie Parker, and tunes like Salt Peanuts, Ornithology, Night in Tunisia, have stayed with me like dynamic sculptures in the brain. The tuning of his drums was always beautiful.
His 5/4 drum solo during the alternative Newport festival in 1972 will stay with me forever, that impressively forceful surging ahead, towards renewal, openness, liberation of racism, restating the African roots of all modern music. I saw him live only once, at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague in 1977, exactly 30 years ago. Still in late prime of his life, Max wasn?t happy with the sound monitors and in the 2nd set threw down his sticks and upped and left. I couldn?t believe the stupidity of the sound technician, who obviously was no good at setting up the equipment poperly. I was disappointed and impressed at the same time. I had just started wistling Now?s the Time, when my eye fell across the Guardian Obituary. His beat has stopped now, but life?s beat goes on, partly helped by his 83 year long presence on this ailing globe.
just in the past two or three weeks i listened so often to max on his record “max”. There is wonderful music, not overplayed, holding everything a little back, and the concept is clear,- in a way classical. Max plays straight 8/8, 4/4 and exciting choruses. I have seen him only one time in my hometown in unna, and that really was a great experience for me. max will live on in the music, and many drummers will count on him, still!!! hi- max, god bless you, and thank u for your work of art,
I met Max long ago in Dallas at the Percussion convention. I still remember his teaching topic that day was “what you don’t play is just as important as what you do play” and to always consider the space between the notes. I try to remember that everytime I sit down to work out a new drum part. I like to think he changed my playing for the better. Thanks Max! We will miss you.
All I can really say is wow. When i first heard Max play my jaw dropped. It was downright amazing. He took the issue of perfection and pushed it to the breaking point. This man should be an insperation to all brave souls who pick up sticks from now untill the end of time.
I feel like my grandfather has died. I say this because I began drumming as a result of listening to Ginger Baker, beginning with his work with Cream. I later learned that one of his prime inspirations was Max Roach and so I began listening to some of Mr. Roach’s work. Drumming was a great passion for as it is for me. I just hope that in some small my drumming can continue his legacy.
Years ago when I first went to a CD store to purchase “MAX Vs. RICH,” I thought I’d hear 2 guys trying to overwhelm eachother with blistering fills and chops galore. When trading solos, I for some reason insisted on hearing MAX trying to duplicate RICH on the selections. – that was at age 18. I was younger and neive, and assumed that MAX had accepted a “challenge” of sorts. However, after starting the 1st track, I developed such an admiration for both drummers; a respect for each of them accepting what each had to offer musically on the instrument. It wasn’t a “drum BATTLE” as they were so called, but rather a mutual respect for eachother…with a certain respect for the listener as well. They just sat in a studio and spoke to eachother, and recorded the conversation. I simply witnessed musical statements that were shared between two of the most musical drummer I have ever heard. Man! – The music those two are probably making now in the Heavens! You’re truly respected and missed!
I grew up in the 50’s and started studying drums. My first jazz album that I bought was Max Roach plus 4 with Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, Ray Bryant Billy Wallace and George Morrow recorded on two sessions Sept 17, 19 and 20, 1956 and March 20 1957. Iv’e treasured this album all my life. I thought Max was an unusual drummer due to his ability to make the drums sound like he was playing melodies and always thought of him as the best drummer in his time. My heart felt sympathy goes to his family and all who appreciated his remarkable talent. I would see him live at Birdland and sit in awe. He gave me so much inspiration and wished I had studied with him. I remebered Max when he opened a drum School with Buddy Rich but I wasn’t able to afford the lessons. He will always be rembered in my life time as a genius who kept on reinventing himself as time went on.
I remember seeing Max Roach play on a Jazz festival in the south of France more than 30 years ago. I was very young at that time but I can still remember the energy of his playing. Respect!
My sincere condolences to Max’s family.
I was suprised to hear that Max had passed!! He was a big influence,not just for me,but for my Grandfather! As an innovator and as a human being!! Grandfather turned me on to Max. I first heard Max on the,Buddy Rich vs Max Roach album. Great,great stuff! Not only from Buddy,but from Max,as well! I really enjoyed his phrasing & fills. He has left a mark on my life & my playing and he will be missed! R.I.P. Mr Roach!!
If it wasn’t for Max my playing wouldn’t be anything like it is today. He was one of the first people who got me into jazz, I remember getting an album with him and Buddy Rich and was blown away by how musical and creative his playing was. He was playing phrases with musical ideas that I had never heard anyone do before, like playing the bass drum on off beats.
I then discovered his playing with Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown. It was amazing how supportive his playing was with those guys. He was always in the pocket but he wasn’t playing conventional time either.
I discovered his avant garde playing with Mingus after that. I think Max is an under ratted avant garde player, he once again reinvented his style but kept his musicality.
When I heard he had passed away I was driving to work. I felt an extreme sadness like I had lost a family member or something. It troubled me so much I tried talking about it with my co workers. When I got home I put on a recording of Max and Clifford Brown and realized at that moment just how big of an impact his playing had on me. Max you will be greatly missed and never forgotten.
Seeing Max for the first time in the early 80’s in Chicago was a life changing experience for me. He played numerous solo pieces, especially the Drum Also Waltzes, and I was sitting about 10 feet from him just watching the interplay between hands and feet. Fantastic. Max was important to more than just the development of drumming, he was a founder of musicians taking social and political stands and then having those platforms come through in his music. A fantastic man.
As a young drummer in the 70’s, who started out listening to jazz not rock, Max was my first influence, because he was the drummer on many of the classic tracks you learn as standards. My first attempts at soloing were based on copying Max’s solos and approach. Over the years, his spark never diminished and he understood better than anyone how the drums were a MUSICAL instrument as much or more than a rhythmic expression. As a native NY metro area guy, I’m heartened by the fact that he “made his bones” in NYC, lived most of his life there and made his transition there. NYC is still where you have to cut it, and no drummer did it with more conviction, integrity and soul than Max. For anyone who needs to be reminded of the state-of-the hardbop art for drummers, get out your vinyl or CDs of the Brown-Roach- ensembles with Rollins or Land and you will hear what I’m talking about. Smooth journeys, Max, we miss you already.
Even though I’m not a musician, I’m a fan of jazz drumming. Before I discovered Max Roach my favorite drummers were people like Steve Gadd and Billy Cobham. They still are! Naturally, when I discovered Max Roach I listened to everything I could get my hands on that featured him. Bird, Brownie, Rollins, etc, etc. But my memory of seeing Max Roach in person is from 1997 at the 92nd Street Y. For a whole week Max Roach took over the 92nd Street Y and a different facet of his talent was displayed every night. One night he performed with video artist Kit Fitzgerald, another night he played behind dancer Bill T. Jones, etc. One night he faced off against Tito Puente in what was billed as a “Battle of the Titans.” It certainly was that. What a great percussive night! And what a great drumming talent Max Roach was. He may be gone but he will certainly not be forgotten.
My son and I pass on are sincere condulances to all of Max Roach’s family. I want to say Thank you for the music…you had brought me to a place where I could venture out of the box, and challenge the barriers. In turn this has passed through generations of people(Musican) who you have influenced and touched their lives; even more so for those of us who are of color you became heroic as of royalty. You will not be forgotten…. Love and Respect,
Chanda “SugarBear” Dixon and Evan “BO” Dixon
I was saddened to learn of Max Roach’s passing. He was a big influence on me because of his melodic drumming. I never got to see him live but through his many recordings especially with Clifford Brown and Charlie Parker and I have tried to absorb how he approached the music and drumming. My thoughts are with his family. Thank you Max for your musicianship, innovation, spirit and humanity.
I first learned about Max through my former drum teacher Jack Gilfoy. He was the drummer for Henry Mancini for many years and we were discussing jazz and odd meters. He played for me the vinyl recording of ‘Rich vs. Roach’ and I was floored.
From then on I’ve been reading and listening to many of the stories and music about Max and by Max.
To the immediate and drumming family of Max Roach… He will be greatly missed but NEVER forgotten. He played for the song…and WOW!!! What a song. Thank you for the years of building a library of music to share your talents with the future generations of music listeners everywhere!
If Babby Dodds is The Father of Drumming and Pappa Jo Jones is The Father of Modern Drumming, who is Max Roach? Max Roach is The Divine Director of Drumming. Like the statue of Liberty in NY Harbor, Max eternally shines his Wondrous Love & Light through his enlightening music. Max’s sound vibrations sends out a Victorious Voice of Freedom for All. Thank you Max for your Clarion Call of Love, I will feel these vibrations in my Heart and send them out into the world through my drumming, making the world a sweeter place. Thank you for teaching me to be humble through my own drumming. Eternal Peace is your Heart Song! Love you…
Additional articles about Max Roach can be found here: