The great Max Roach died yesterday. He was a part of more great sessions and more wonderful records almost than you can count, including the lovely Brown and Roach sides, Roach + 4 from the years after Clifford Brown passed, and the Civil Rights masterpiece We Insist! with Abbey Lincoln. He played on the scary, spare Money Jungle with Duke and Mingus, and Jazz at Massey Hall with Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker.
He played on Saxophone Colossus and Brilliant Corners and Diz and Getz.
You know when he was just 19, in 1943, he played on The Big Sounds by Coleman Hawkins with Ben Webster, and the most recent record of his I own is Friendship, with Clark Terry, a record to seek out if you like high-end sound quality. Great-sounding CD. It came out 59 years after The Big Sounds, in 2002.
Study in Brown was one of the first jazz records I ever owned.
Max Roach played with nearly everybody. He made records with Archie Shepp and Anthony Braxton, Bud Powell and Sonny Rollins, J.J. Johnson and Dexter Gordon, to name a few.
Go to iTunes and look for "The Casbah" from Rich Versus Roach; "Joy Spring" from Clifford Brown and Max Roach (right); "It's Time" from the record of the same name (a Roach original); "Drums" from Max Roach and the Charles Mingus Quartet; "Rumble in the Jungle" from M'Boom; "Kismet" from The Max Roach Quartet Featuring Hank Mobley; "Minor Meeting" from Sonny Clark's Sonny Clark Trio; "Fleurette Africaine" from Duke Ellington's Money Jungle; and "Confirmation" from The Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker ("Parker's Mood" from the same record is killer). For a very short sampling.
He owned Celestion SL700 speakers like I had, I read once, and he had them up on top of high bookcases in his New York apartment. He said he didn't need them to sound great because he remembered what all his cuts sounded like from when he cut them.
Play some of his music today, and celebrate this life.
Top photo taken in 1996 by Philippe Lévy-Stab from his excellent jazz photography website (used with permission).
Featured Comment by Jake Clark: "I must write a few words of tribute for Max Roach. Max was an amazing innovator in the art of jazz drumming whose talents extended beyond that genre—to the stage, screen and even hip-hop. I was fortunate enough to have met Max twice during my years in New York City. In the mid-1980s, I worked with Doris Parker, who was married to Charlie 'Bird' Parker and was his 'legal' widow. (Bird lived with another woman, Chan, in a common-law relationship in the final years of his life but never divorced Doris.)
"Doris, a fine woman full of piss and vinegar but with a heart of gold as well, carried Bird's torch by becoming an activist promoting rehabilitation over incarceration for drug addicts. Every year, she was would gather her considerable contacts in the jazz world to organize a star-studded benefit for the nonprofit drug-treatment center Veritas that she dubbed 'The Friends of Charlie Parker.' The benefit is held annually to this day; Mrs. Parker died in 2000 at age 77.
"Doris's first benefit was a slapped-together affair held on The Great Hill on the Upper West Side of Central Park during the summer of 1987. I was working with her then as an administrative aide at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Study and Research—she was the librarian of the department. In fact, after she died, the library was renamed in her honor.
"Doris, just then dipping her toe into such forays, hadn't had a lot of time to organize the event, which was more or less a picnic/potluck. But one of the few musicians who took part in that nascent effort—it eventually grew to gala proportions (during which I got to rub elbows with some of the still-living jazz greats and other personalities; Peter Jennings MC'd one year, and I once sat next to Thelonius Monk's widow, Nellie)—was Mr. Roach.
"Roach played for over an hour or so that day, then settled in to enjoy the food and mingle with the 50 or so people who attended the affair. I was thrilled to be in the company of this man, who was so kind, unassuming and downright sweet. I met him again a few years later at a 'Friends...' event held at the Roseland Ballroom, and got to hang out with him outside while we smoked cigarettes (me, anyway; I don't think he smoked). Fortunately, I have his autograph, but I was a bit too starstruck to engage him in conversation about his remarkable career as a founder of the bebop sound (one of my favorites jazz genres) and just stuck to small talk.
"So it saddened me to hear yesterday that yet another one of the greats has left us. He is irreplaceable. I might add that none of the obituaries I read yesterday mentioned his considerable efforts on behalf of Doris's causes. And while Max was one of the first jazz academicians ever, he also devoted much time to helping disadvantaged youth, steering them toward music and away from the streets. May you rest in peace, Max."
Jacob R. Clark is a Columbus, Ohio, based writer-educator.