He dropped good bombs: Max Roach, RIP

August 18, 2007 at 5:00 pm (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, Human rights, jazz, Jim D, music)

Maxwell Lemuel Roach, born January 10 1924; died August 16 2007 

“All the drummers were there at the Village Vanguard when Max Roach returned to action and taught them, once again, that he was the master, playing with a poetic command of his instrument that has never been equaled, even as he so completely absorbed the free, timeless drumming style that the avant-gardist Rashied Ali, both moping and admiring,  said, ‘Well, Max is playing free now. I guess I’ll just go home and get my little rubber practice pad and wait for him to get another ten years older'” – Stanley Crouch, ‘The Presence Is Always The Point’  in ‘Jazz – A History of America’s Music’ by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns.

“Among musicians who identified with black consciousness, Roach was most frequently involved in direct action. Together with Charles Mingus – with whom he had set up the shortlived Debut label in 1952 – he organised the Newport Rebels concert, featuring musicians allegedly ignored by the main Newport festival. Roach even interrupted a Miles Davis Carnegie Hall charity performance because he disapproved of the beneficiary.

“The Village Vanguard club’s owner once pleaded with him to just play music and stop lecturing the audience” – Ronald Atkins, The Guardian.

Predictably, Doug Ramsey at ‘Rifftides‘ has some interesting thoughts and first-hand reminiscences about Roach: scroll down to August 16th. Ramsey’s description of Roach’s encounter with the winner of a San Fransisco cable-car bell-ringers’ competition is a classic. 


  1. Renegade Eye said,

    He was magnificent, in all aspects of music.

  2. twp77 said,

    Completely amazing stuff! I liked the cable car story too!

  3. Dave said,

    Kudos to one of the greats. I did catch the last British gig, and I’ve just dusted off my CD of We Insist! for play later this evening.

  4. Jim Denham said,

    For an even more amazing YouTube masterclass in percussion from Roach, and some further comments, I recommend:


    “the rants and musings of an uppity woman of color”.

  5. Bruce said,

    Max was also very eloquent about the links between jazz and politics.
    In 1960, a time when, in the words of Flann O’Brien, support for the Civil Rights
    movement was not yet ‘profitable or popular’, he brought out The Freedom Now Suite featuring a
    depicting three Civil Rights protestors sitting in at a segregated lunch counter and music graphically evoking
    slavery , false hopes of Emancipation and the struggle against apartheid. For much of the 60s he was effectively banned from recording.
    In 1981 he set King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech to a very strong drum solo and his composition It’s Time.

    But his politics went well beyond civil rights or ‘black consciousness’ as these extracts
    from a 1980 interview with one Skip Laszlo illustrates:

    ‘Politically, I see jazz as very democratic music. It expresses democracy whereas European classical music expresses im-perialism. European music is run by two people – the composer and the conductor who treat the rest of the musicians as slaves.
    ‘In jazz, we debate a topic, the musicians are free to discuss it. It’s like a meeting.
    ‘Most musicians are in a vulnerable position. So, musicians are generally apolitical…
    ‘The Sixties was the time of the anti-war movement, the black movement . . . The US is not a homogenous society but that was a time of people coming together to speak with one mind. All these movements worked in the same direction and we made gains. The government learned how to de-fuse this and now these gains are under attack.
    ‘Most people believe the Sixties was an isolated period, but it wasn’t. There is only one instance of a city being bombed in the United States and it was by the government, to put down a race riot in Oklahoma in 1918. We have the oppression of black people, you in Britain have Ireland; it’s the same thing – imperialism.<p</p.
    ‘But the USA will always pro-duce Malcolm Xs, WEB Du Bois’t, Marcus Garveys and Mar-tin Luther Kings. Just as Ameri-can society is very stubborn about preserving oppression, resistance keeps being generated. There were many elements responsible for the events of the Sixties -court decisions forcing integra-tion hi public places, on buses, the opening of universities to black people, the resurgence of the popularity of socialist ideas, the student movement demand-ing a say in the running of their lives.’

    ‘You see, this music is very political. Improvisation allows new ideas and it stimulates ideas, musically and socially as well. In Europe, political – very political -people are drawn to jazz. In Portugal, giant concerts are organized for us and the Left or-ganizes them.’
    Asked how he would define himself, Roach replied, ‘In the States, I would be called a socialist.
    I am just for monetary change so the masses get a big share of the wealth.’

  6. Jim Denham said,

    Thanks for that, Bruce: I knew that he was a brilliant drummer and composer, and a civil rights activist and black nationalist: I didn’t realise that he described himself as a socialist, which is very pleasing. I look forward to your appreciation in the next “Solidarity & Workers Liberty”.

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