1924 * MAX ROACH * 2007
Drummer expanded bounds of jazz
By Peter Keepnews
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS
August 17, 2007
NEW YORK â" Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules
of drumming in the 1940s and spent the rest of his career breaking
musical barriers and defying listeners' expectations, died Wednesday
at his home in New York. He was 83.
His death was announced yesterday by a spokesman for Blue Note
records, on which he frequently appeared. No cause was given. Roach
had been ill for several years.
As a young man, Roach, a percussion virtuoso capable of playing at the
most brutal tempos with subtlety as well as power, was among a small
circle of adventurous musicians who brought about wholesale changes in
During the years, he challenged his audiences and himself by working
not just with standard jazz instrumentation, and not just in
traditional jazz venues, but in a wide variety of contexts, some of
them well beyond the confines of jazz as it is generally understood.
He led a âdouble quartetâ consisting of his working group of trumpet,
saxophone, bass and drums plus a string quartet. He led an ensemble
consisting entirely of percussionists. He dueted with uncompromising
avant-gardists such as the pianist Cecil Taylor and the saxophonist
Anthony Braxton. He performed unaccompanied. He wrote music for plays
by Sam Shepard and dance pieces by Alvin Ailey. He collaborated with
video artists, gospel choirs and hip-hop performers.
Roach made several acclaimed appearances in San Diego. One of the most
memorable came in 1992 when he gave a solo percussion recital at
Sherwood Auditorium in La Jolla, then returned to the stage for a
delightful impromptu drum and spoken-word duet with author Toni Morrison.
In 1987, the San Diego Repertory Theatre brought Roach to town to
direct and score a jazz-fueled production of âA Midsummer Night's
Dream.â Two years later, he performed in San Diego with his Max Roach
Double Quartet, which teamed his quartet with the Uptown String
Quartet, an all-female jazz-chamber group that included his
viola-playing daughter, Maxine.
Roach explained his philosophy in 1990: âYou can't write the same book
twice. Though I've been in historic musical situations, I can't go
back and do that again. And though I run into artistic crises, they
keep my life interesting.â
The North Carolina native was born on Jan. 10, 1924, and moved to
Brooklyn with his family four years later. A player piano left by the
previous tenants gave Roach his musical introduction.
From the beginning of his career, Roach found himself in historic
situations. He was in his teens when he played drums with alto
saxophonist Charlie Parker at a Harlem club in 1942. Within a few
years, Roach was recognized as a pioneer in the development of the new
form of jazz that came to be known as bebop.
He wasn't the first drummer to play bebop â" Kenny Clarke, 10 years his
senior, is generally credited with that distinction â" but he quickly
established himself as the most imaginative percussionist in modern
jazz and the most influential.
Always among the most politically active of jazz musicians, Roach had
helped Charles Mingus establish one of the first musician-run record
companies, Debut, in 1952. Eight years later, the two organized a
festival in Newport, R.I., to protest the Newport Jazz Festival's
treatment of performers.
That year, Roach collaborated with lyricist Oscar Brown Jr. on âWe
Insist! Freedom Now Suite,â which played variations on the theme of
black people's struggle for equality.
Union-Tribune pop music critic George Varga contributed to this report.
Â© Copyright 2007 Union-Tribune Publishing Co. â¢ A Copley Newspaper Site