What did Max Roach do?


DFO Master
Double Platinum Supporting Member
Mar 9, 2006
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Im young. Im dumb. I only know Max Roach from videos on youtube. From what I’ve seen, nothing he has played has moved me. But he is regarded as one of the greats. What should I be focusing on? Is it possible to just not be a Max Roach fan? Is enjoying Max’s playing an acquired taste? In your own words, what were his contributions to drumming?

Morello Man

Well-Known Member
Nov 17, 2016
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Lancaster, California
I'm shocked this hasn't been mentioned, and I'll offer this as a specific answer to your question.

Max recorded the first jazz composition in 5/4 time entitled “As Long As You’re Living” (pre-dating Brubeck’s “Take Five.”)

And before all of the Morello-files lose their collective minds. The song "Take Five" was recorded on August 18, 1959. And Max's "As Long as You're Living" was recorded (a month before) on July 21 1959. I think Brubeck's was released first (I don't have exact release dates right now at hand,) and "Take Five" was a more popular "hit." BUT technically, Max's 5/4 “As Long As You’re Living”(written by Julian Priester and Tommy Turrentine) was recorded first.

This is how I briefly encapsulate Max to my inquisitive students.

Max Roach (b 1924) first recorded in 1943 with Coleman Hawkins, but by that time Max was already a regular player on 52nd Street. He was trained at the Manhattan School of Music. He watched Kenny Clarke and then proceeded to take Kenny’s bebop innovations, and intensified them.

While Max was the house drummer at Monroe’s (nightclub) he developed, combined, and built upon the melodicism of Big Sid Catlett, Kenny Clarke’s early bebop innovations, Cozy Cole’s commitment to learning about (and playing) music on the drums, and Chick Webb's soloing virtuosity.

Max learned and applied the rhythmic language of bebop learned from Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker (whose band he was in from several times) and wrapped them up in a legendary and influential drumming package.

His key recordings were with a group that he co-led with trumpeter Clifford Brown. With Brown he recorded some of the fastest tempos in jazz, and crystalized the melodic drumming patterns that he used while trading four's, eight's, and on solos played over the form of the songs.

Max Roach was a virtuoso, a brush master, bandleader, and a professor of the drums and music. He enjoyed a long career in music that featured hundreds of recordings as leader and a sideman. He died in 2007.

I always advise students to do this. Listen to a little bit of other music from the same years that any recommended "groundbreaking" music was recorded. That will give it contextual and historical reference and will help to reveal it's importance.

And (as already mentioned,) if a specific music doesn't appeal to you at first, and the music or the artist is being named as highly influential or important. Put it aside, and come back to it. You might even have to return to it several times. It might take months or years for you to "hear it," and that's fine. Or, you might not ever "hear it," which is fine too. Everybody can't like everything, I've even heard of people that don't like pizza or chocolate.

This thread might not help or convince you to like Max's music, but you might develop more appreciation for his contributions and talents. There is lots of music (and musicians) that I respect but I don't specifically like.

Some lesser known Max Roach recordings that I like are Max's "Deeds Not Words," "With the Legendary Hasaan," Slide Hampton's "Drum Suite," Thelonious Monk's "Brilliant Corners," and Johnny Griffin's "Introducing Johnny Griffin."

Great question, wonderful observations from all, enjoy the journey!
And welcome to DFO,