August 16, 2007


Jazz Master Max Roach Dies at 83 (LARRY McSHANE, 8/16/07, AP)

Max Roach, the master percussionist whose rhythmic innovations and improvisations defined bebop jazz during a wide-ranging career where he collaborated with artists from Duke Ellington to rapper Fab Five Freddy, has died after a long illness. He was 83.

The self-taught musical prodigy died Wednesday night at an undisclosed hospital in Manhattan, said Cem Kurosman, spokesman for Blue Note Records, one of Roach's labels. No additional details were available, he said Thursday.

Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz, dies at 83 (Peter Keepnews, August 16, 2007, IHT)
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 early Thursday in New York. He was 83.

His death was announced Thursday by a spokesman for Blue Note records, on which he frequently appeared. No cause was given. Roach had been known to be ill for several years.

As a young man, Roach, a percussion virtuoso capable of playing at the most brutal tempos with subtlety as well as power, was among a small circle of adventurous musicians who brought about wholesale changes in jazz. He remained adventurous to the end.

Over the years he challenged both his audiences and himself by working not just with standard jazz instrumentation, and not just in traditional jazz venues, but in a wide variety of contexts, some of them well beyond the confines of jazz as that word is generally understood.

As an 18-year-old in the early 1940’s, he played with Benny Carter’s LA-based big band, which also featured other soon-to-be major figures in the bop movement: Dexter Gordon, JJ Johnson and Miles Davis.

His mid-50’s quintet work with Clifford Brown (with either Sonny Rollins or Harold Land on tenor) remains some of the greatest jazz ever recorded.

And, of course, he work with Parker and Gillespie is truly historic.

Max Roach, Jazz Drummer, Dies at 83 (WILL FRIEDWALD, August 17, 2007, NY Sun)

As a small boy, Maxwell Lemuel Roach and his family moved from North Carolina to Brooklyn, where the youngster grew up studying drums and piano (well enough to occasionally work as a keyboardist early on). By the time he was in high school, Roach was part of a clique of forward-thinking Brooklyn musicians; he was encouraged both by Count Basie's drummer, Jo Jones, and Duke Ellington's drummer, Sonny Greer, and was even called upon to substitute for Greer in Ellington's Orchestra on one occasion. Although Roach didn't play regularly with Ellington, 20 years later, he and legendary bassist Charles Mingus worked with Ellington on "Money Jungle," one of the Maestro's most celebrated later albums.

By 1943, Roach was playing regularly in the after-hours clubs of Harlem, where bebop was born; he recorded for the first time that December with the saxophone pioneer ColemanHawkins. In1944–45, Roach went on the road with the big band of alto saxophonist Benny Carter, and also began his long working relationship with Charlie Parker. With the rise of bebop in the mid-'40s, Roach became the most celebrated drummer on the jazz scene, regularly winning polls and raves in the music press. He was a superlative musician (he later studied composition formally), possessing both the musical acumen and sheer technique necessary to help define the role of the drums in the new musical language of bebop, in which the percussionist no longer hid in the background; thanks partly to Roach, the drums were increasingly elevated to the role of soloist, as well as to driving the ensemble in an entirely new way.

Roach remained with Parker's quintet (which also included the young Miles Davis, with whom he also played on the famous "Birth of the Cool" album) off and on for nearly 10 years. He accompanied Parker on his famous 1949 visit to Paris, at which time the drummer recorded his first session as a leader, using Parker's quintet but with James Moody in place of Bird himself. His last major appearance with Parker was the famous 1953 Toronto concert, which also featured trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Bud Powell, and Mingus. By that time, Roach and Mingus had already co-founded Debut Records, for which Roach recorded his first album.

In 1954, Roach began co-leading a quintet with the brilliant 23-year-old trumpeter Clifford Brown. For the next two years, until the trumpeter's tragic early death in a car crash, this group, which also starred the equally prodigious Sonny Rollins, once again helped shift the overall direction of jazz. Like Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the Brown-Roach band did much to define the new stratum of modern jazz known as hard bop.

Roach continued to experiment with new compositions and unusual time signatures — he was one of the only musicians ever to play bebop in waltz time. Roach also continued playing sessions and live dates with all the stars of the music — Cannonball Adderley, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, Thad Jones, J J. Johnson, Kenny Dorham, Oscar Pettiford, Rollins, and Mingus — even while leading his own bands.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at August 16, 2007 6:40 PM

Duke called African Flower the best tune he ever recorded ... imagine that for a moment. He raved on about what Roach decided to do with the drumming on it (he put the sticks down and played his kit with his hands and fingers.) Duke had to keep Mingus and Roach from killing each other during the Money Jungle session for UA. I consider Roach's drumming on this record to be among his best. Please do add this link to your excellent "Max Making Wax" links.

God bless Max Roach.

Posted by: Qiao Yang at August 16, 2007 7:00 PM

I'll agree that his quintet recordings with Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown are some of the greatest jazz etched in vinyl. I'm pretty sure I have the "Study in Brown" LP in my closet somewhere, as well as "Money Jungle" amongst others, but I unfortunately do not have a setup to listen to my vinyl albums. Soon, I hope.

Fortunately I picked up most of the albums Roach made with Clifford Brown that I could get my hands on back in the late 70's, as some of them are out of print now. Clifford Brown has to be one of the great tragedies in jazz, a premature death of a truly gifted trumpet player. While he watched others succumb to heroin (like Rollins) Brown stayed squeaky-clean, but died (car accident?) while only in his early 20's.

Posted by: Marc V at August 16, 2007 9:02 PM

Rollins was a heroin addict before he met Brown. When Roach called Sonny to join the band, Rollins had been living in a Y and (legend has it) had hocked his horn. Brown's example of clean living is what led Sonny to clean up his life and kick his dope habit.

Posted by: Foos at August 16, 2007 9:34 PM

Roach had an early drug problem too, IIRC. Had his act together as well by the time Rollins joined up.

Anyway, Drat. Another jazz great I never got a chance to see. (Actually, I did get a chance, twice, but both times something came up I couldn't get around).

Posted by: Twn at August 17, 2007 8:46 AM

I did not know Max, but can testify that he was committed to helping others overcome drug addiction. He was a member of the Board of Veritas, family-focused, not for profit, drug treatment and prevention organization in NYC where I'm on the Board now. Our slogan, our ethos is "Healing the Family. Breaking the Cycle." Max, Dizzy Gillespie, the late Milt Jackson and Bill Cosby almost 20 years ago had the idea of gathering jazz musicians to raise money for Veritas in tribute to Charlie Parker, saying that if Veritas had been around when Charlie was addicted to heroin, he may have beat the addiction. Max says: "I'm living testimony that this thing can be beat. Those of us in a position to help have to do what we can." Max's family has said that in lieu of flowers they request that donations be made in his memory to Veritas, 912 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10025

Posted by: Jim Siegel at August 17, 2007 6:12 PM

I'll be doing a Roach tribute on my radio show this Sunday at noon EST. (; as of now the Webstream is still broke but hopefully soon...) I've handled jazz deaths prior to this one, but this is really the first one to touch me personally. So much to cover in a three-hour show; probably I'll play two hours or so of Max and take suggestions from the listeners, which will be played the following week if I find the albums in question.

I never met the guy or saw him in person, and already I'm taking this hard. Not sure what I'll do when Rollins meets his reward - I'll probably cry a long time.

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at August 17, 2007 7:42 PM