Drummer-leader and sideman extraordinaire, Max Roach played on some of the most important hard-bop and post-bop recordings of all time, working with some incredible musicians including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and more.
Roach’s compositional abilities, together with his swing and sublime soloing facility was second to none. “The drummer has always been the soloist,” Max told Rhythm. “I used to complain about that!I’d say to guys, ‘Here I am killing myself playing rhythm behind you, and supporting you, and the minute I start my drum solo you all go off stage and smoke a cigarette! That’s the way it is. The drummer is a pure soloist, all the time. I enjoy solos. If I’m in a musical setting I try and preserve that setting, and the personality of the piece that we are playing.”
Jazz in 3 / 4 Time
Together with famed saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the hard-bop drum legend showed the world that jazz did not have to swing in 4/4 time – instead devoting an entire album of jazz to 3 /4 waltz time on sublime performances of the standard ‘Lover’, and the aptly named Blues Waltz.
Key track: Blues Waltz
Perhaps the best recording on which to soak up Roach’s hard-bop style, as he takes numerous opportunities to showcase his own soloing style in a group that included Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. He could groove too, as on St Louis Blues, before cutting loose at the end. The wonderful solo For Big Sid is a fitting tribute to past master Sid Catlett.
Key track: For Big Sid
Members, Don't Git Weary
As small group jazz moved towards the electric, and fusion was the new art form to check out, Roach put out an album of soulful but experimental post-pop around in quintet format. The Roach-penned title track, rolling ‘Absolutions’ and smokey vibe of Equipoise are Roach at his best.
Key track: Absolutions
Rich Versus Roach
Two drum legends for the price of one on this absolutely essential album. Rich and Roach trade licks and sublime skills on tracks such as Louis Prima’s Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing), Charlie Parker’s Big Foot and the pair’s own composition Figure Eights. The latter is a drums-only battle, with each player’s call-and-response drum licks increasing in speed and dexterity to a furious climax. Showing off has never sounded so good.
Key track: Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing)
One of the most influential jazz albums ever, praised for the freedom of its virtuosic artists –pianist Duke Ellington, bassist Charlie Mingus and drummer Max Roach. Considering the difference in playing styles and generation gap between Duke and the younger Roach and Mingus, it yielded some fantastic arrangements. The three had supposedly not played together, and did not rehearse before going in to record. Ellington gave the others a 'lead sheet' with the basic melody and harmony’, which resulted in a true post-bop classic. Max’s playing on Caravan is legendary, as is the title track, and Very Special is just that.