Max Roach, Jazz Great Dies at 83

Max Roach, a key figure in the growth of bebop, died today in his sleep. He was 83. Why does it matter? Well, many can explain his contribution to jazz, better than I. For me, jazz was one of the bridges to my father. From there it has grown into a point of joy. From Preservation Hall style jazz to bebop to hard bop to cool to fusion and more the art is, as so many have said an Amercian one. As for the law, one can look to the work of K.J. Greene for race issues and music, but I think a simpler way to consider jazz applies. As schools start classes again, trials pick up speed, and life plows ahead, consider jazz as a way to pause and appreciate the varied rhythms of life. It does not have to be jazz, but attorneys who find a way to take in life and step back from the warp speed at which law seems to move are likely to be better at their jobs and quite possibly enjoy themselves too.

Still for those needing more law-related reasons to listen to Mr. Roach, the article notes “Roach also was a civil rights activist who brought politics into his art. In 1960 he created “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite,” a seven-part suite featuring vocalist Abbey Lincoln that addressed slavery and racism in America. Some of his work with Ms. Lincoln is on YouTube (a search for Max Roach YouTube should do the trick to find several clips).

Here is a clip of Mr. Roach and his quartet in full glory, playing all out.

For those who want more, there are two clips below the fold. One is called Mr. Hi-Hat. Notice Mr. Roach’s nod to Jonathan David Samuel Jones for his mastery of the hi-hat. Mr. Roach was known for “shifting the time-keeping function to the cymbal, allowing the drums to play a more expressive and important role and, in the process, contributing to the shift of jazz from popular dance music to an art form that fans appreciated sitting in clubs” yet gives Mr. Jones his due. It reminds me of the night I saw Branford Marsalis and Sonny Rollins play a double header concert in Berkeley. Brandford started, was cool in a nice suit, and played some excellent jazz. He ended and said roughly that he was able to do two of his favorite things that night, play for an audience and get a lesson from a great. He then told people who might be foolish enough to leave to stick around. Fifteen minutes later Sonny Rollins came out. He wore RayBans, a short sleeve bowling style shirt, and blew the roof off the house.

The other clip is a drum battle between Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Art Blakey. (Oh yeah, check out Art Blakey’s Mosaic and by that I mean just buy it.)

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7 Responses

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:


    Thanks for this fitting and moving tribute. Unfortunately my speakers aren’t working…. There’s an equally moving obituary piece by Don Heckman in today’s Los Angeles Times.

    A film I saw some time ago (can’t recall title), and to the best of my memory was a story of an English publisher’s representative who is sent to work in the South African office during the apartheid era (1960s?) only to become “politicized” in the best sense of the term. The soundtrack was haunting and unforgettable, and I soon learned that most (all?) of it was by Max Roach. Check out Percussion Bitter Sweet (1961 or 1962?). It really does help one keep (or put) things in perspective. (And if in spite of the paucity of clues someone happens to know the name of this film, could you please let me know.)

  2. Dissent says:

    Patrick: are you thinking of the movie, “Cry Freedom” with Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline? That has the plot you’re describing, but Roach didn’t do the sound sound track as far as I remember. Roach contributed to another series by the same name later on, though, and of course, he had the Freedom Now Suite.

    Thanks for the tribute to Roach, Deven. I was a fan of his, and used to spend summer vacations at jazz festivals and jam sessions. Getting to hear him play with Blakey, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes… well… drugs were superfluous. 🙂

    Law and jazz: there’s a structure and some rules but you can get really creative as long as you manage to get back to where you’re supposed to be going. Does that help? 🙂

  3. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    No, it was before that movie and in black and white, containing documentary-like although unapproved because not officially censored footage from South Africa of the time. I don’t think it contained any readily recognizable movie stars or big names. [And sorry for the two posts: I intended the second, edited version of the first, which I did not realize got posted.]

  4. Paul Gowder says:

    And if anyone wants a really WILD Max Roach album, check out M’boom. It’s worth it.

  5. Deven says:


    Thanks for pointing folks to the L.A. Times piece.

    A little IMDB search suggests that the film you seek may be Dilemma (1962/II) — the parenthetical is the IMDB notation to distinguish films of the same title. Here is the link Apparently based on the novel A World of Strangers by Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer.


    Great tip about the album! Thanks much.


  6. Dissent says:

    Paul: thank you for finding that film. I don’t recall ever hearing of “Dilemma” before. Good to know about.

  7. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:


    That’s it! Thanks so much for finding it. I knew it (way back when) under its alternative title, A World of Strangers. Information on the film is available from the director’s (Henning Carlsen) website: You can click on the trailer. It seems I got the album wrong: “As background music you hear Max Roach (drums) and Abbey Lincoln (vocal) from their record ‘Freedom Now Suite’ from 1960.” A wonderful film everyone should see….