music: August 2007 Archives
I arrived in New Orleans Thursday, and I've barely rested since. I'm ambivalent about the whole "Katrina Anniversary" thing: one the one hand, it seems shallow and crude and beside the point; on the other, markers are makers and, when it comes to journalism, pegs are pegs. And so many smart and hard-working people in New Orleans are making use of this moment to highlight what's right, what's wrong, and what's needed. The president is here already, I think. He's supposed to speak somewhere or another tomorrow: It will be hard to get anything across over the hollow ring of his promises at Jackson Square in 2005.
I worry that the piece I just filed for Salon.com is too downcast -- there is so much good and positive going on every day here. But it's true and accurate and I mean what I say about culture leading the way. The rains come and go here lately -- light, refreshing and utterly unthreatening. Then it breaks, and the sun burns piercing hot. And I keep forgetting to leave extra time to talk to people I bump into in the street. It's like that here...
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.