Max Roach would have turned 97 yesterday. After last week’s deadly Capitol rampage, when the escalating effects of Trumpism laid bare the atrocities of American history, Roach’s insistence on political engagement and justice resonates. The drummer’s 1960 We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, with Abbey Lincoln, acutely protested injustice and set the stage for his affirmation that “I will never again play anything that doesn’t have social significance.”
In a poem for the drummer’s 75th birthday, Amiri Baraka painted the picture: “Max is the highest, the outtest, the largest, the greatest, the fastest, the hippest…When we say Max, that’s our word for artist, djali, nzuri ngoma, Señor Congero, leader, mwalimu, scientist of sound, sonic designer, trappist definer, composer, revolutionary democrat…Papa Joe’s successor, Philly Joe’s confessor, AT’s mentor, Roy Haynes’ inventor. Ask Jimmy Cobb, Elvin, or Klook, or even Sunny Murray when he ain’t in a hurry…Barry Harris can tell you…Ask Bud if you see him. You know he know even after the cops beat him Un Poco Loco.”
“I mean you can ask Pharoah or David or Dizzy when he come out of hiding. It’s a trick, Diz just outta sight. I heard ‘Con Alma’ and Diz and Max in Paris just the other night. But ask anybody conscious who Max Roach be. Miles certainly knew and Coltrane too. All the cats who know the science of drum, know where our last dispensation come from.”
Watch Baraka read the full poem at Roach’s funeral at the end of an interview on Democracy Now.
“A drum master for freedom,” tweeted the saxophonist Charles Lloyd yesterday in celebration, “who stood up and marched alongside Hawk, Monk, Bird, Diz, Bud, Sonny, Clifford, and Booker Little, fighting for all of humanity. He metered out his protest with each beat of his drumstick.”