Voices at Large

Musicality to the Max


Reading the news today that drum innovator and bebop pioneer Max Roach died last night at age 83, I was at once struck with feelings of sadness and gratitude. Gratitude because the first time I heard Max Roach on a recording, it quite literally changed my whole concept of what jazz was and what it could be. It was 1980 and I was a 15-year-old high school trumpet player whose goal in life was to play high notes like Maynard Ferguson. But when a friend of my parents laid a Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet cassette tape on me, my whole musical universe was instantly turned inside-out and upside-down.

That recording was so affecting, not only because I heard the trumpet being played in a way unlike any I had ever heard or imagined before-with agility, nuance, creativity, and soul (yes, Clifford could play those high notes too), but also because I heard the drums being played in such a deeply musical way. I was experiencing a musical conversation between true masters of the art. And during those moments when the spotlight was solely on Max, hearing a drummer construct a drum solo in such a melodic way was yet another revelation. Before long I'd be discovering the recordings of Miles Davis, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, and countless other jazz greats. But the fascinating musical journey that continues to this day all started with that Clifford Brown/Max Roach tape. Thank you, Max, for your profound and lasting influence.

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