The Chicago pianist and self-described bon vivant Jeremy Kahn writes:
I was lucky enough to have crossed paths with Max Roach on a couple of different occasions: Once was for a workshop of an Amiri Baraka play about Bumpy Johnson, the black gangster in the twenties. It was performed by NYU students, one of whom was Muhal Richard Abrams’s daughter Richarda. The first time, though, was for 3 plays by Sam Shepard at LaMama for which Max was supplying the music. Permit me a middle-aged memory:
When the phone rang, I was engaged in the kind of personal business that under-employed guys in their twenties tend to engage in quite a bit. Picking up the phone with my good hand, the voice said “Jeremy Kahn? This is Max Roach.” I played along with this weak ruse while I tried to figure out which of my friends was doing this fairly convincing impersonation.
Much to my amazement, it turned out to actually be Max. He wanted me to be involved with the Shepard plays, along with Bobby Watson, Curtis Lundy and a drummer whose name I don’t recall. He was Max’s gofer, and Max seemed to delight in tormenting him.
During rehearsals, we smoked large amounts of reefer and hash totally out in the open. I mean, after all, we were jazz musicians, right? When called upon to play, Max would just count off a tempo and told us to jam. Sometimes he would sing a rhythmic figure and say “Do it in F minor”. At one point we said. “How about back and forth between F minor and G-flat major? Like this?” And he said, “Yeah, yeah; that’s good.” Max ended up winning an Obie award for his “Original score”, but was very gracious about acknowledging our contributions.
He was a great guy and a great hang 99% of the time, but, when he got pissed, he had a terrifying temper.
It was my privilege to have met him.
For a Rifftides remembrance of Max Roach, click here.