Lori Meads: Remembering a native son for Jazz Appreciation Month

By Lori Meads

The Daily Advance

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The month of April is just around the corner. Since April is Jazz Appreciation Month, I thought it would be fitting to recognize a very well-known name in jazz that also relates to the Albemarle Region. Do you recognize the name Max Roach?

Jazz musician Max Roach was born Maxwell Lemuel Roach on Jan. 14, 1924 to Alphonse and Cressie Roach of the Newland Township here in Pasquotank County. The family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. when Roach was 4-years old, settling in the Bedford-Sluyvesant area.

Roach grew up surrounded by music. He received his first drum set by the age of 12 and played the drums in gospel bands and performed in a variety of jazz bands. By the age of 18 he filled in on drums with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Paramount Theater in New York.

In the 1940s, Roach became notable for changing the way drums were played in jazz. Roach freed the bass drum from keeping strict time and shifted to the ride cymbal, to set the time allowing for the rest of the drum kit to provide rhythmic counter points. A drummer could now perform solo.

He was one of the first drummers to play in the bebop style. He performed in bands led by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, and Miles Davis.

In the 1950s, Roach had planned to study percussion at the Manhattan School of Music but was told his technique was incorrect. He focused on composition.

He worked with bassist Charles Mingus to establish one of the first musician-run record companies, Debut, and worked with Clifford Brown to form a quintet. The quintet made a statement in the jazz community with their hard bop.

The success was short lived when Clifford Brown and Richie Powell were killed in an automobile accident. Sadden by the events; Roach continued the quintet honoring all obligations.

In the 1960s, Roach wrote music to support the Civil Rights movement. He collaborated with Oscar Brown, Jr., on “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.”

In the 1970s, Roach joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to teach drumming. Still, he never turned his back on performing. He worked on a project to form M’Boom, an all percussion group and formed another quartet.

Roach participated in unusual methods of music. He performed with a rapper, two disc jockeys, and a team of break dancers in 1983, composed music for an Off Broadway production winning the Obie Award, and took part in a multimedia collaboration. He worked with his daughter Maxine in the Max Roach Double Quartet, a combination of his quartet and the Uptown String Quartet that Maxine founded; for which she was a viola player.

He continued to teach but with a lighter load and toured with his quartet.

Max Roach passed away on Aug. 16, 2007 in New York City and was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

Lori Meads is an educator with Museum of the Albemarle.