Darcy Argue on Max Roach

Darcy James Argue on Max Roach:


Drummers aren’t supposed to be intellectuals. The instrument is so direct and intense that it purportedly attracts only your more, ah… physical types. We all know the jokes — Q. How can you tell if the stage is level? A. The drummer is drooling out of both sides of his mouth. And so on.

Max Roach was an intellectual — the best kind of intellectual. He was constantly pushing against the boundaries of what was expected of him as a drummer, as a jazz musician, as an African-American artist. He started his career by creating the template for modern jazz drumming, taking Kenny Clarke’s proto-bebop style and making it more conversational and interactive. His playing propelled Bird and Diz to new heights — their best moments all came with Max behind the kit. He was just as concerned about color and timbre as he was about timekeeping, and his playing is shot through with intricate details and subtle shadings. He is legendary for coming up with truly oddball choices and making them work, somehow. (See Ethan’s post for a few great examples of this.) His solos are models of rigorous, methodical development.