[Marxism] Max Roach & Militant Jazz

glparramatta glparramatta at greenleft.org.au
Thu Aug 16 17:10:16 MDT 2007

NY Times, August 16, 2007
Max Roach, a Founder of Modern Jazz, Dies at 83

Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules of drumming in 
the 1940’s and spent the rest of his career breaking musical barriers 
and defying listeners’ expectations, died early today in Manhattan. He 
was 83.



Max Roach's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite left little room for 
interpretation. By the time it was recorded in late summer 1960, Max 
Roach was already a well-established leader in the jazz world. Arguably 
one of the two greatest bebop drummers, Roach started his career by 
playing with Charlie Parker in the 1940s. He took part in the historical 
"Birth of the Cool" recording sessions led by Miles Davis in 1949 and, 
from 1954 to 1956, was the co-leader of the very influential Clifford 
Brown-Max Roach Quintet. The first album to express Max Roach's 
political awareness was his 1958 recording Deeds, Not Words. If the 
title can easily be associated with the Civil Rights Movement, the music 
is more or less typical hard bop: a mix of standards and three 
originals. We Insist! is altogether different. It can almost be seen as 
the answer to Orrin Keepnews ambiguous essay for the Sonny Rollins 
album. No ambiguity here. The cover photo shows three black men who look 
has if they are taking part in a lunch counter sit-in. The liner notes 
by Nat Hentoff open with a quote by A. Philip Randolph, "founder of the 
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters [...] and a principal organizer of 
the "March on Washington" movement, which began in 1941" (Wexler, 322). 
Hentoff himself starts his essay by acknowledging the link to the 
Movement. He talks about the sit-in demonstrations in North Carolina, 
about Martin Luther King's SCLC, about the Congress for Racial Equality 
(CORE) and about the support various jazz musicians expressed for the 
activities being organized by those groups.

Max Roach's compositions, and their titles, are unambiguous as well. 
"Driva' Man 
with lyrics by Oscar Brown, Jr., is about the "white overseer in slavery 
time who often forced women under his jurisdiction into sexual 
relations" (Hentoff). Hentoff expands on the role of the overseer in his 
essay, as way as other realities of slave life on a plantation. His 
words, and the quotes from ex-slaves which are inserted in his comment, 
are a perfect, if graphic, complement to the lyrics sung by Abbey 
Lincoln. "Freedom Day 
again with lyrics by Brown, expresses what many slaves must have felt 
right after the Emancipation Proclamation. It is important here to pause 
and consider the significance of black artists acknowledging the 
heritage of slavery. LeRoi Jones made the point repeatedly in Blues 
People that middle class, urban African-Americans had tried as hard as 
they could to ignore or distance themselves from this heritage. Max 
Roach and Oscar Brown Jr. are forcing their audience to remember a part 
of American history most people, black or white, would rather forget. We 
must also acknowledge that those two pieces, along with "All Africa", 
were originally composed as part of a larger choral work to be performed 
in 1963 for the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Max Roach

"Triptych: Prayer, Protest, Peace 
contains no lyrics. A powerful display of emotions by Abbey Lincoln 
accompanied solely by Roach on drums, it is by far the most innovative 
piece on this album. Lincoln sings, shouts , cries and moans to convey 
more than any words could. Max Roach accompaniment is masterful: 
supportive as well as directive, it proves how melodic the drums can be 
in the right set of hands. Here again, Hentoff liner notes re-affirm the 
meaning of the piece and its relation to the struggle for equality. The 
last two pieces on the album, "All Africa 
and "Tears For Johannesburg 
confirm a point made about hard bop and the Civil Rights Movement in 
general: the connection many felt between the struggle for freedom in 
the United States and the struggle for indepence in many African and 
Asian colonies. They also serve to emphasize the pride many 
African-Americans felt for their African heritage. The symbol of 
African-American drummer Max Roach being joined by two Afro-cuban 
percussionists as well Michael Olatunji from Nigeria further highlights 
the cultural connection and common heritage between those various 

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