September 4, 2007


The Constitution of a Jazzman: Max Roach, at 83, left us on August 16, but his liberating presence lives on in his music (Nat Hentoff, September 4th, 2007, Village Voice)

Early one morning years ago, I was at the Blues Alley jazz club in Washington, D.C., to do a television interview with Max Roach. As always, I was early. There was no one in the club except Max, alone at the drums, practicing for the night's gig. He played with as much intensity—and as many surprises—as if he were before hundreds of listeners.

Like Roy Eldridge and Phil Woods, Max always played as if it were his last gig on earth. With Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and another drummer—Kenny "Klook" Clarke—Max changed the direction of jazz as Louis Armstrong had decades before. [...]

Also a composer, the drummer created a work titled We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite in 1960, as the civil-rights movement was gathering momentum and controversy. It helped spur other jazz musicians to bring those national polyphonic protest rhythms into their music.

I was privileged, to say the least, to produce the incandescent Freedom Now Suite performances for the Candid label. By "produce," I mean only that I wrote down the length of each section and made sure Max was present to decide on the final cut. It was his byline, not mine.

Everyone on the session, including the engineer, was swept up in the cascade of emotions that Max and lyricist Oscar Brown Jr. propelled into motion. The magisterial tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins—with a sound that never needed a microphone—actually seemed to fill the building. And that very afternoon, Abbey Lincoln was being transformed, because of Max, from a supper-club singer into the utterly singular and penetrating storyteller who has since resounded around the world.

From slavery (the bitterly sardonic "Driva Man") to "Freedom Day" and "Tears for Johannesburg," to the beatings of black students going on at Southern lunch counters, the Freedom Now Suite created such a surge of rebellion that it was soon banned in South Africa, to the pleasure of everyone who had been in the studio that day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 4, 2007 6:48 PM

I was listening to Clifford Jordan while writing today. Love that guy's music.

Ironic that jazz is most popular in Japan, U.S. and France (notoriously racist states), and certainly not amongst blacks. Doubt many blacks in South Africa are listening to Max Roach and Clifford Jordan.

I hate to say it, but I'm glad Max Roach and Clifford Jordan's ancestors were forced upon this shore because man does not live by Buddy Rich and Stan Getz, alone. I'm also glad they could make a pretty good living in the U.S. producing protest jazz!

Posted by: Randall Voth at September 5, 2007 2:45 AM

It still floors me that so many of my jazz albums that were recorded, say 50 years ago, have contemporaneous liner notes written by Hentoff, and he's still around!!

Posted by: Twn at September 5, 2007 11:56 AM