Max Roach


Today is the birthday of the great be bop jazz drummer Max Roach (1924-2007). I always get real peeved when I hear people who don’t know what they’re talking about say that drums are an “easier” instrument than the melodic ones (keyboards, horns, strings, woodwinds). That’s nonsense. All musical instruments are just tools for the communication of artists. In the hands of one, an instrument (whatever instrument*) can be made to sing. In the hands of another, it fizzles. The object is to take the instrument as far as it can go, and the drums do NOT take a back seat to other instruments when they’re in the hands of a great artist like Max Roach.

When still a teenager, Roach played with Duke Ellington, and then became one of the first drummers to play be bop, alongside fellow pioneers Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, et al. From 1961 through 1970 he was married to singer and actress Abbey Lincoln, with whom he also collaborated

Roach also collaborated with Sam Shepard, also a drummer, on the music for some of Shepard’s early plays at La Mama, as well as with my late friend George Ferencz. 

* I speak within reason, of course. I think we have to draw the line at the triangle.

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