Anyone aware of the importance of jazz to the structure and fiber of American culture must be pleased by the news about Max Roach and reassured that his country treasures his contribution. (Pictured, Roach and President Jimmy Carter on the south lawn of the White House in 1977.) This week, the Library of Congress acquired the great drummer’s personal papers, musical scores, tapes and recordings. The Max Roach collection will be preserved in the library’s archives and available for research and study. There’s a lot to study. As bebop evolved, Roach (1924-2007) followed Kenny Clarke to become the music’s most powerful, inventive and influential drummer. The collection includes a piece of hotel notepaper on which he wrote,
I attended the University of the streets in the ‘Harlems’ of the USA. My professors were Duke Ellington, Sonny Greer, Baby Dodds, Louis Armstrong … My classmates were Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis …
His students were all of the drummers who followed him and the scores of musicians who profited from his leadership and example. His inheritors are those of us who play or listen to modern American music.
Here is a celebrated recording Roach by the 1950s quintet he co-led with trumpeter Clifford Brown. This is Brown’s composition “Joy Spring;” Roach, Brown, tenor saxophonist Harold Land, pianist Richie Powell and bassist George Morrow.
To visit the Library of Congress announcement about the acquisition of the Max Roach collection, go here.
Two memories of Max: Following a 1970s Dizzy Gillespie concert rehearsal that my camera crew and I covered at Lincoln Center, Dizzy invited me to have lunch with him, Max, Percy Heath, Billy Eckstine and Eckstine’s new young wife. We had just ordered when the restaurant’s sound system played an old Fats Waller record. Max developed a huge grin and sang along with the main phrase, “Your Feet’s Too Big.”
When I was writing notes for the reissue of Diz And Getz (Gillespie, Stan Getz, the Oscar Peterson Trio and Roach), I called Max, who was noted for his strong feelings about race and about jazz styles, to ask what he remembered about the session. “Stan Getz!” he said. “I never recorded with Stan Getz. Why would we record with him?
“But Max,” I said, “you’re on the record.”
“I don’t remember,” he said.
He may also have not remembered that he was the drummer on Getz’s first recordings for Savoy in 1946.
I have been enjoying the new book by pianist Bill Mays, a memoir of his half-century career in music. Written with panache and a fine sense of the absurd, it is packed with anecdotes about his experiences in jazz clubs and concert halls around the world and his extensive work in the movie and recording studios of Los Angeles and New York. There are stories about his encounters with artists and entertainers as various as Paul Anka, Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Placido Domingo and a raft of A-list jazz stars. Here’s a sample.
For a Beatles “revisited” project I was hired by a Japanese producer to arrange and play on several Lennon/McCartney tunes. My trio recorded several tracks , and I arranged additional tracks using a string orchestra and alto saxophone added to my trio. The producer and I both agreed that “overdubbing” the great Phil Woods would add a lot to the music. Phil responded initially to the request for his services with, “That’s just what the world needs: another Beatles tribute. Count me out!” We cajoled, we pleaded, and he relented—and sounded absolutely marvelous. With Phil bringing his one-of-a-kind sound and his own personality to the music, the Beatles never sounded better!
Mays writes about the time he severed the radial nerve in his left thumb in a kitchen accident. After surgery, his hand was in a cast for weeks.
Some months earlier I had agreed to appear at a party and play some four-hands piano music with Harold Danko. I called and told him not to worry, that the cast would be coming off the week of the party, and that I could still make the gig. Ever the prankster, Harold asked me to bring the cast that the doctor had removed with a surgical saw. Conspiring before the performance, we put the cast back on my hand, with just enough Scotch tape to hold it in place. Harold made an elaborate announcement about how I had injured my hand, had had surgery, was still in a cast, but that we both had faith that my hand could be “made whole” for the evening’s performance. He brought me onstage, did a “laying on of hands” and in his best Jimmy Swaggart faith-healer voice, commanded, in the name of the Almighty, that I be healed and realize full restoration. With a shout and a rap of his fist, my cast flew off and across the room. Looking incredulous, I shook my hand, shouting “I’m healed, I’m healed!” Whereupon we sat down and played some outrageously righteous boogie-woogie piano together.
Mays is donating proceeds from sales of his self-published memoir to the Musicians Assistance Program of the American Federation of Musicians, a fine cause. For information about how to obtain the book, see his website.
Two things I would never have known if Rifftides readers hadn’t told me about them:
1. Alto saxophonist Grace Kelly was named one of Glamour Magazine’s top 10 college women for 2011. It takes some of us non-Glamour readers a while to get the word. Here’s Glamour’s video about Ms. Kelly. Sorry about the ads. They’re part of the package.
Other Glamour top 10 college women include a scientist, a cycling champion, a nature protection advocate and a songwriter. To see the article about Ms. Kelly, go here. She and her quintet will be at the Portland Jazz Festival and at The Seasons in late February. I’m planning to report here on several festival events and the Kelly concert the same week at The Seasons.
2. In Germany since 2002, there has been a band called the Puredesmond Quartet. If you’re wondering why they chose that name, watch this:
The quartet’s website, with a German-or-English language option, has information about the band’s origins, philosophy and recording history.
It occurs to me that I should mention something about the Grammy Awards. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented them Sunday evening in a proceeding that was televised with impressive, even spectacular, production values. These were the winners in the jazz category:
Best improvised jazz solo
“Orbits” — Wayne Shorter (pictured), soloist
Best jazz vocal album
Liquid Spirit — Gregory Porter
Best jazz instrumental album
Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue — Terri Lyne Carrington
Best large jazz ensemble album
Night in Calisia — Randy Brecker, Wlodek Pawlik Trio & Kalisz Philharmonic
Best Latin jazz album
Song for Maura — Paquito D’Rivera and Trio Corrente
Congratulations to all.
The jazz winners did not appear on the telecast, but received their awards in a pre-broadcast ceremony out of sight of the millions who watched the main event. That is how NARAS, with rare exceptions, has buried jazz and classical music at the Grammy ceremonies for the past couple of decades.
I was unable to watch the television broadcast. Then, thinking that I should know something about the acts (term chosen advisedly) that NARAS deemed airworthy, I went to YouTube and watched Macklemore, Lorde, Daft Punk, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and a few others in clips from the show. The only sensible conclusion is that what they do is primarily concerned with entertainment, social commentary, drama, shock and awe, and with music hardly at all. There is no use being worked up about it unless you want to get exercised about the societal and commercial values generating a cultural atmosphere that nourishes demand for such entertainment and makes it popular and profitable. It’s been a losing battle since at least “Three Little Fishies” and “How Much is That Doggie in the Window.”
Music of substance and lasting value is available. Those who prefer it can seek it out, wishing all the while, perhaps, that musicians who devote their lives to perfecting their art and craft in jazz trios or string quartets or symphony orchestras could be rewarded with even a small percentage of the adoration and money lavished on obscene hip-hop performers or vocalists who specialize in bumps, grinds and pelvic thrusts.
Maybe it’s just a phase we’re going through and modern equivalents of the big bands or the bossa nova or Frank Sinatra or the Brubeck Quartet or Miles Davis or whatever you miss most will come back to the Grammys. I’m an optimist, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
The Los Angeles Times has a complete list of Grammy winners.