Max Roach

"It was increasingly apparent to Roach that developing his own musical persona was the most crucial matter of all."

© Mosaic Images; photograph by Francis Wolff

Max Roach

Even had Max Roach never made a record under his own name, his status in jazz would have been solidified by the evidence of just a handful of crucial sideman appearances: with Coleman Hawkins on the first bop session, on Charlie Parker’s Ko-Ko date, Bud Powell’s first trio recordings, Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool sessions, the Jazz at Massey Hall concert. The line continues through Sonny Rollins’s Saxophone Colossus and Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners. 

Max Roach’s love for music took over his life. He studied drums privately. He had already learned a little about the piano on his own, which would later lead to some gigs at the keyboard on Fifty-second Street. Drums, however, became an obsession. He practiced and played constantly, particularly after his parents bought him a drum set, a reward for doing well in elementary school.

It was increasingly apparent to Roach that developing his own musical persona was the most crucial matter of all. “You got no respect if you played like someone else,” he insists. But before a musician can develop an individual way of doing things, he or she has to “go to school” and find out how things are done.

Affected in a major way by Jo Jones, the harbinger of modernism on drums, Max Roach also responded strongly to the ongoing creativity of Baby Dodds and Sidney Catlett. But Chick Webb was a particularly special figure, especially in the black community. “He was a monument,” Roach says. An extraordinary natural technician and a bandleader, Webb moved drummers into a position of prominence, establishing in no uncertain terms that they were not second-class citizens.

Max Roach has always had strong feelings about the need for drummers to play a leading role. The new jazz of the 1940s made it possible for this to happen. The heated, often fragmented, speed-informed creations of Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie openly demanded action-filled, reactive drumming that could bring enhanced rhythmic dimension to the music.

Charlie Parker


Charlie Parker(as), Dizzy Gillespie (p) (tp), Curly Russell (b), Max Roach (d).

Max Roach’s solos mirror his ambition. Listen to his thirty-two bars on the original recording of Ko-Ko, Charlie Parker’s masterpiece based on Cherokee. In a blast of creativity, Roach simultaneously documents his roots in military drumming and his departure from them. Ideas expressed on the snare are enhanced by variegated bass-drum accents. The string of accents is part of the solo’s progression but can also be viewed as a separate rhythmic line. Recorded in November 1945 for Savoy, Ko-Ko remains a landmark in jazz history.

The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet

The band Max Roach co-led with trumpeter Clifford Brown in the 1950s made glorious music – tuneful, spirited, diverse rhythmically and harmonically, — cutting edge and appealing. It was music that paved the way for hard bop. And a collaboration that worked for the musicians and listeners equally.

Max Roach’s polyrhythmic commentary helped ignite his partners during their own improvisations, and his sense of color and dynamics (closer to that of his Lighthouse predecessor Shelly Manne than to any of his East Coast peers) assured that every piece the band performed had an added dimension of personality.   

Alongside such genius, the profile of the other soloists tended to suffer; yet Land also possessed great melodic fluency and a deep-blue feeling that seems to be a birthright of saxophonists from Texas, while Powell displayed enough grace and poise to offer effective contrast.  “Darn That Dream” and “I’ll String Along with You,” their respective ballad features, as well as the unerring timekeeping of Morrow, testify to the overall brilliance of the quintet. –  Bob Blumenthal, liner note excerpt The Clifford Brown & Max Roach Emarcy Albums (Mosaic Records)

The Complete Mercury Max Roach Plus Four Sessions (Mosaic Records)

The auto accident in 1956 that claimed the lives of Clifford Brown and pianist Richie Powell was a terrible tragedy for Roach and the world of music. A lesser person might have stalled or withdrawn. Reeling from the loss of his partner, but determined to build on his art, Max Roach picked up steam.

While his body of work is staggering, the albums he made for Mercury immediately after the death of Clifford Brown are among his most impressive and overlooked. They are the first where the leadership had passed entirely to Max Roach, where the group concept being explored was his and his alone, where his musicianship on percussion instruments began to be fully realized, and where hints of his extraordinary command of every facet of the music, and the exalted position he deserved in it, began to reveal themselves.

Always in control of every nuance of his own rhythm, dynamics, pitch and emotion, Max created a direction for the new band that allowed for personal expression from each member of the group. The group feel could be hard-hitting like the Roach/Brown organization, but with more surprises in its arrangements and even more experiments with unusual time signatures. Roach began taking longer solos, and innovated new ideas for the other musicians to comp behind the drummer. To a man, they all later spoke about how generous Roach was in letting them play what they felt when it was their turn to solo.

From the first Max Roach + 4 with established players such as Kenny Dorham on trumpet, Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, Ray Bryant on piano and George Morrow on bass, the band evolved as Roach’s interest did. The repertoire ranged from standards to George Russell’s “Ezz-thetic” and new pieces in the then-uncommon ¾ time. When Hank Mobley came in for Rollins, the piano chair was eliminated.

Booker Little
“We were in Chicago with Brownie when the changeover from Harold Land to Sonny Rollins came in the group. Harold had to go back to California because a personal problem had come up within his family. We went by to see Sonny, and we’re sitting upstairs in the lobby; Sonny was downstairs, practicing with a young trumpet player. The young trumpet player wanted to meet Clifford Brown. Rollins came upstairs with Booker and introduced us to Booker Little, who must have been about seventeen then. He had just come up from Tennessee. Little did I know that we’d ever play together.” – Max Roach

In 1958, Max debuted a brand new group with the spectacular young Memphis musicians Booker Little on trumpet and George Coleman on tenor saxophone. The fifth instrument in this restlessly creative and exciting quintet moved from piano to tuba to trombone.

As an arranger and composer, Booker Little’s characteristic of writing heterophonic lines in close harmony, rich with second, fourth, and fifth intervals, shares its spirit, if not its distinctive minutiae, with Roach’s. In their three-plus years of collaboration, Roach and Little drew on a common pool of like-minded musicians for their own records, and both actively pursued the desire to write new jazz works in 3/4 and 5/4.

Stella By Starlight

Booker Little (tp); George Coleman (ts); Eddie Baker (p); Bob Cranshaw (b), Max Roach (d). June 3, 1958

A Seminal Record Date.
George Coleman brought forth a piece he had recently written, and Booker Little arranged a majestic introduction to Stella By Starlight. One of the record’s signature Max Roach details is the abrupt collapse of the first in-tempo band theme into Eddie Baker’s solo chorus. But the real emphasis is on the horn players as improvisers.  Booker Little’s first appearance on record and an early one for George Coleman.

Max Roach’s Influences & Technique

Embellishing a style introduced by Kenny Clarke a few years earlier, Roach devised a fresh approach to playing his instrument that initially mystified and thoroughly challenged other drummers. On his first recordings with Parker, he displayed a highly responsive, contrapuntal style. The time was established on the hi-hat or top cymbals, rather than the snare and bass drums. A regular pulse, softly played on the bass drum, provided a foundation (or “bottom”) for the music. This was a holdover from the old way of playing. Added to the recipe were comments on accents made on the snare and bass drums, often in close conjunction.

In essence, Roach worked with techniques out of the drums’ lively tradition, some of them stemming from Jo Jones, some from Sid Catlett, more than a few from Kenny Clarke, and combined them with techniques he invented himself. His performances were highlighted by singular patterns that were used in fills and solos and also appeared in one form or another when he played a purely supportive role. He consistently showed how to effectively use space, silence, and dynamics. Roach made a case for the drummer as a musician.

Because he was an incessant practicer, a player who performed around the clock, Roach developed admirable technique and coordination. He concentrated on what drummers call independence, playing different rhythms with each appendage, which created new levels of interest for the attentive listener. He began to liberate the drum set in a major way. His talent, razor-sharp mind, and inventive approach to music resulted in new applications of drum rudiments and increased use and integration of the bass drum, cymbals, and hi-hat.

Max Roach’s solos were masterly, often breathtaking. He played like an assured, well-conditioned athlete. Moving around the drums, often at great speed, he juxtaposed one idea against another, building to climaxes, all elements of the kit contributing to his message. Far more intense and centered than he had been in the past, Roach brought a rare sense of life to the music.

It was no longer just a matter of announcing time and establishing a groove. Roach took things way beyond that, bringing into play his sensitivity to sound and the so-called melodic possibilities of the instrument, while venturing into previously unexplored areas of drum set technique. Burt Korall author of Drummin’ Men: the Heartbeat of Jazz: The Swing Years; liner note excerpts The Complete Mercury Max Roach Plus Four Sessions (Mosaic Records)

Max Roach

Drum Solo

(A) Kenny Dorham (trumpet); Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Ray Bryant (piano); George Morrow (bass), Max Roach (drums)
NYC, September 17, 1956
13768 Mr. X Emarcy MG36098
13769 Body And Soul –
13770-4 Just One Of Those Things – _________________________________________________________________

(B) same as (A)
NYC, September 19, 1956
13764-6 Ezz-thetic Emarcy MG36098
13765 The Most Beautiful Girl In The World MG36108
13766 Woody ‘N’ You MG36098
13767 Dr. Free-Zee -1 –
-1 Roach overdubs tympani _________________________________________________________________

(C) Kenny Dorham (trumpet); Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Billy Wallace (piano); George Morrow (bass), Max Roach (drums)
Capitol Studios, LA, March 18, 1957
JB1-10 I’ll Take Romance Emarcy SR80002
15176-6 It Don’t Mean A Thing Emarcy (J) 195J-39
15177 Blues Waltz SR80002
15178-5 Love Letters (J) 195J-39 ______________________________________________________________________

(D) same as (C). Capitol Studios, LA, March 20, 1957
JB5-7 Little Folks Emarcy SR80002
15188-10 Minor Trouble (J) 195J-39
JB7-4 Valse Hot SR80002 ________________________________________________________________________

(E) same as (C).
Capitol Studios, LA, March 21, 1957
JB8 Lover Emarcy SR80002

Note: The first chorus of Roach’s drum exchanges with the band was edited out of the mono issue of this performance. The edited mono version has been mistakenly issued as an alternate take. _____________________________________________________________

(F) Kenny Dorham (trumpet); Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone); George Morrow (bass); Max Roach (drums).
Fine Recording, NYC, December 20, 1957
JB158-7 Raoul Emarcy (J)195J-39
JB159-2 This Time The Dream’s On Me –
JB160-1 Tune Up –

(G) same as (F).
Fine Recording, NYC, December 23, 1957
JB161-4 Confirmation Emarcy SR80019
JB162-11 Au Privave (as Apres Vous)-1 –
JB163-6 Anthropology (J) 195J-39
JB164-2 Yardbird Suite-1 SR80019

-1 the drum introduction was omitted from the monaural issue of the LP. ________________________________________________________________________________

(H) Kenny Dorham (trumpet); George Coleman (tenor saxophone); Nelson Boyd (bass), Max Roach (drums, tympani).
Nola Recording Studio, NYC, April 11, 1958
JB229-7 Billie’s Bounce EmArcy SR80019
JB230-7 Ko-Ko –
JB231-1 Parker’s Mood – _____________________________________________________________

(I) Booker Little (trumpet); George Coleman (tenor saxophone); Eddie Baker (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass), Max Roach (drums).
Universal Recording, Chicago, June 3, 1958
16982 Shirley (mono take) EmArcy MG36132
JB323 Shirley (stereo take) EmArcy SR 60128
16983 Memo: To Maurice (mono take) EmArcy MG36132
JB324 Memo: To Maurice (stereo take) EmArcy SR 60128
JB325 Stella By Starlight –
JB326 Sporty –
16986 My Old Flame (mono take) (omit ts) EmArcy MG36132
JB327 My Old Flame (stereo take) (omit ts) EmArcy SR 60128
JB328 Stompin’ At The Savoy (omit tp) –
16987 Stompin’ At The Savoy (mono outchorus) (omit tp) EmArcy MG36132

Note: Stompin’ At The Savoy was assembled by splicing on an ending from a take other than the master. That edit is made in different places on the mono and stereo master tapes, so that the mono-LP edition has one brief passage (index 2 of mono outchorus) that differs from the stereo-LP edition.

(J) Booker Little (trumpet); Ray Draper (tuba); George Coleman (tenor saxophone); Art Davis (bass), Max Roach (drums)
Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island, July 6, 1958
Spoken introduction by Max Roach previously unissued
JB343 La Villa EmArcy SR80010
JB344 A Night In Tunisia –
JB345 Deeds, Not Words Mercury (J)195J-42
JB346 Minor Mode EmArcy SR 80010
JB347 Tune Up –
JB342 Love For Sale -1 –

-1 recorded at an unknown studio in the summer of 1958 ______________________________________________

(K) Booker Little (trumpet); Julian Priester (trombone); George Coleman (tenor saxophone); Art Davis (bass), Max Roach (drums).
Fine Recording, NYC, January 22, 1959
JB454-9 Lepa Mercury
JB455-7 Connie’s Bounce –
JB463-5 Prelude -1 –
JB464-11 Bemsha Swing –
JB465-5 Tympanalli -2 –
JB466-4 There’s No You -3 –
JB467-7 A Little Sweet –

-1 arranged by Bill Lee
-2 Max Roach (tympani) overdubbed. Overdub take 12 was used.
-3 arranged by Booker Little

Note: It is likely that some of this music was recorded at an early February session. ______________________________________________________________________________

(L) Max Roach Five: Tommy Turrentine (trumpet); Julian Priester (trombone); Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone); Bob Boswell (bass); Buddy Rich Five: Willie Dennis (trombone); Phil Woods (alto saxophone); John Bunch (piano); Phil Leshin (bass); Rich (drums); Gigi Gryce (arranger, conductor).
Fine Recording, New York City, April 7 & 8, 1959
JB487-6 Yesterdays Mercury SR60133
JB488-3 Limehouse Blues (alternate take) Mercury (J) 826-987-2 (CD)
JB488-7 Limehouse Blues Mercury SR60133
JB489-6 The Casbah (alternate take) Mercury (J) 826-987-2 (CD)
JB489-8 The Casbah Mercury SR60133
JB490-2 Big Foot (first alternate take) previously unissued
JB490-3 Big Foot Mercury SR60133
JB490-7 Big Foot (second alternate take) Mercury (J) 826-987-2 (CD)
JB491-10 Sleep Mercury SR60133
JB492-2 Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye –
JB493-4 Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing) (alternate take) Mercury (J) 826-987-2 (CD)
JB493-8 Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing) Mercury SR60133
JB503-1 Figure Eights -1 –

-1 Roach, Rich (drums) only

Note: The first tune recorded at this session was “Liza (All The Clouds’ll Roll Away)”. It was never issued and no tape of this tune has survived. ____________________________________________________________________

(M) Tommy Turrentine (trumpet); Julian Priester (trombone); Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone); Bob Boswell (bass), Max Roach (drums).
Capitol Studios, NYC, July 21, 1959
PB2167 The More I See You (omit tp, tb) Mercury SR60170
PB2169 Lotus Blossom –
PB2170 Quiet As It’s Kept –
PB2171 As Long As You’re Living –
PB2173 To Lady –
PB2178 Juliano –

Note: “All The Way” was recorded at this session, but no tape of that performance has survived. This session is dated July 21 because composer Leon Mitchell remembers it being recorded on the day of Billie Holiday’s funeral. However, photographer Chuck Stewart’s notes show this session to be December, 1959. _____________________________________________________________

(N) Tommy Turrentine-1 (trumpet); Julian Priester-2 (trombone); Stanley Turrentine-3 (tenor saxophone); Ray Bryant (piano), Bob Boswell (bass), Max Roach (drums), Abbey Lincoln-4 (vocal).
Universal Recording, Chicago, October 9 & 10, 1959
PB2672-1 Speak Low (first alternate take) previously unissued
PB2672-2 Speak Low Mercury
PB2672-3 Speak Low (second alternate take) previously unissued
PB2673-1 Never Let Me Go -2 (first alternate take) –
PB2673-2 Never Let Me Go -2 (second alternate take) –
PB2673-7 Never Let Me Go -2 Mercury
PB2674-2 Come Rain Or Come Shine -1 (first alternate take) previously unissued
PB2674-5 Come Rain Or Come Shine -1 (second alternate take) –
PB2674-7 Come Rain Or Come Shine -1 Mercury SR60215
PB2675-2 Namely You -3 –
PB2676-4 Moon-Faced and Starry-Eyed –
PB2677-3 Wild Is The Wind -2 (alternate take) previously unissued
PB2677-4 Wild Is The Wind -2 Mercury
PB2678-2 You’re Mine, You -3 (first alternate take) previously unissued
PB2678-4 You’re Mine, You -3 Mercury
PB2678-5 You’re Mine, You -3 (second alternate take) previously unissued
PB2678-6 You’re Mine, You -3 (third alternate take) –
PB2679-1 You’re My Thrill -1,3 –
PB2680-2 I Concentrate On You -1,2,3,4 (alternate take) –
PB2680-4 I Concentrate On You -1,2,3,4 Mercury SR60215
PB2681-4 Never Leave Me -1,2,3,4 (alternate take) previously unissued
PB2681-6 Never Leave Me -1,2,3,4 Mercury SR60215 __________________________________________________________________

(O) Tommy Turrentine (trumpet); Julian Priester (trombone); Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone); Bob Boswell (bass), Max Roach (drums).
Barclay Studios, Paris, March 1, 1960
PB3241 Petit Dejeuner Mercury
PB3242 Un Nouveau Complet –
PB3243 Parisian Sketches –
The Tower
The Champs
The Caves
The Left Bank
The Arch
Barclay Studios, Paris, March 2, 1960
PB3239 Nica Mercury SR60760
PB3240 Liberte – _______________________________________________________________________

EmArcy MG36098 Max Roach + 4
EmArcy MG36108/SR80002 Jazz in 3/4 Time
EmArcy (Japan) 195J-39 Max Roach + 4 & More
EmArcy SR80019 Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker
EmArcy SR60128 (stereo) Max Roach + 4 on the Chicago Scene
EmArcy MG36132 (mono) Max Roach + 4 on the Chicago Scene
EmArcy SR80010 Max Roach + 4 at Newport
Mercury (Japan) 195J-42 Max Roach + 4 at Newport
Mercury SR60911 The Many Sides of Max
Mercury SR 60133 Rich Versus Roach
Mercury 826 987-2 (CD) Rich Versus Roach
Mercury SR60170 Quiet as It’s Kept
Mercury SR60215 Moon-Faced and Starry-Eyed
Mercury SR60760 Parisian Sketches

Original sessions produced by Bob Shad (A-H), Jack Tracy (I,J & L), unknown (K), Max Roach (M,O) and Hal Mooney (N).
Reissue produced by Ben Young
Mastered by Kevin Reeves in 24-bit at Universal Music Studios-East
Research and assembled by Tom Greenwood, Carlos Kase, Bryan Koniarz and Jamie Krents
Notes edited by Peter Keepnews

Special thanks to Muhal Richard Abrams, Samantha Black, John Blanchard, Jim Gallert, Deborah Hay, Nate Herr, Michael Lang, Chuck Mitchell, George Moore, Max Roach, George Russell, Bert Stern, Ken Thomson, Kenny Washington, Mike Wilpizeski, John Wriggle, the Institute of Jazz Studies, the Manhattan School of Music, WKCR-FM, and the staff at Universal Mastering–East

This compilation (p)2000 Universal Music Enterprises, a Division of UMG Recordings Inc., Universal City, CA 97608-U.S.A. Manufactured by Universal Music Enterprises. Warning: All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.
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