to the max

Max Roach died yesterday at 83, silently in his sleep. But from his teens until his death he was gloriously unsilent as a drummer, composer, bandleader, organizer, activist and fearless creative soul. Roach was one of those few who helped define what bebop sounds like but who transcended that and every other category.

It was hardly coincidence that Roach was at the drums for seminal or especially revealing recordings such as the late-1940s work by Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk's "Brilliant Corners," and Duke Ellington's "Money Jungle." As the drummer for Sonny Rollins's 1958 "Freedom Suite" and as conceptualist-composer-drummer for "We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite," Roach displayed a conscience and relevance one wishes jazz could muster in these troubled times. And Roach's acts of empowerment in collaboration with Charles Mingus -- founding Debut Records, launching an alternative jazz festival in 1960 to protest the Newport jazz Festival's policies -- stand as inspirational markers for similar acts of independence by artists today, from John Zorn to Maria Schneider.

I never heard Roach play with Parker or Rollins or Monk or Ellington, or with Clifford Brown, with whom he led one of jazz's great quintets. But I heard him play in duet with Cecil Taylor, and I'll never forget it. And I heard him play with his innovative Double Quartet and with his percussion ensemble M'Boom. And I heard him play all by himself, on a lone high-hat cymbal.

Here's what Abbey Lincoln told me about Max Roach:

"Max knew that I was a musician before I even knew it. He'd sit all day at the piano and by the evening, there'd be a song. I'd just listen and watch, and that told me all I needed to know. He introduced me to philosophical lyrics, and he introduced us all to a lot of things."

Here's what my nephew, also named Max and also a drummer, told me a year ago, when he was 13:

"He takes the beat and changes it up a little at a time. And he takes these crazy solos that somehow make sense."

Here's what Peter Keepnews wrote in today's New York Times obituary, and what Ben Ratliff added in his arts-section piece.

August 17, 2007 11:07 AM | | Comments (0)

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Evan Christopher Django à la Créole (Lejazzetal) 

Clarinetist Evan Christopher, a California native, moved to New Orleans in 1994. In his frequent duets with Tom McDermott, and as a standout member of trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, his erudite and personalized approach to traditional jazz commands attention.

Dr. Michael White Blue Crescent (Basin Street) 

Long before the floods that devastated his city, clarinetist Michael White wrestled with the challenge of preserving New Orleans traditional jazz without embalming it. He sought to write tunes built on time-honored local forms that spoke to the here-and-now. But Dr. White struggled to compose anything at all during the past three years--until late 2007, when original music began pouring forth.

 
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Red Earth: A Malian Journey (DDB Records/Emarcy/Universal) Despite her place in the top rank of American jazz vocalists and her crossover success, Dee Dee Bridgewater has often felt displaced. "I'm always trying to fit in somewhere," she once told me. This new disc, which finds Ms. Bridgewater and her band in collaboration with a cast of Malian musicians and singers, is no further pose:
David Murray Black Saint Quartet featuring Cassandra Wilson Sacred Ground (Justin Time) 
Long among the strongest, most adventurous reedmen in jazz,
Joe Zawinul Brown Street (Heads Up) 
The list of great Viennese composers must include Zawinul--same for the honor roll of jazz innovators.
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This page contains a single entry by ListenGood published on August 17, 2007 11:07 AM.

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