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Drumming on the Partitions of Racism: Remembering Max Roach

Ingrid Monson, author of Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights for Jazz and Africa, wrote: “Revisited! The Freedom Now Suite “for JazzTimes last June.

The The Freedom Now Suite, written by drummer Max Roach and writer / singer Oscar Brown Jr., is perhaps the most famous jazz piece with an explicitly political content. Known primarily for its Candid intake We insist! Freedom Now Suite, The album’s liner notes begin with a thundering quote from A. Philip Randolph: “A revolution is unfolding – America’s unfinished revolution. It unfolds in counters, buses, libraries and schools – wherever the dignity and potential of men are denied. Youth and idealism unfold. Masses of negroes march on the stage of history and now demand their freedom! “

The album’s cover photo recalls the student lunch counter sit-ins that began on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, NC, and visualizes the connection between the political events of 1960 and the theme of the Freedom Now Suite. The five movements of the work (“Driva ‘Man”, “Freedom Day”, “Triptych: Prayer / Protest / Peace”, “All of Africa” ​​and “Tears for Johannesburg”) are organized as historical progress through African American history, one similar shape to Duke Ellington Black, brown and beige. The Freedom Now Suite Transition from slavery to Emancipation Day to the current civil rights struggle and African independence.

Roach was always one of the most politically active jazz musicians and had helped bassist Charles Mingus found one of the first musician-led record companies, Debut, in 1952. Eight years later, the two organized a so-called rebel festival, RI, in Newport to protest against the treatment of artists by the Newport Jazz Festival. That same year, Mr. Roach worked with copywriter Oscar Brown Jr. on “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, ”which played variations on the theme of Blacks’ Struggle for Equality in the US and Africa.

The album, which featured vocals by Abbey Lincoln (Mr. Roach’s frequent collaborator and his wife from 1962 to 1970), received mixed reviews: many critics praised its ambition but some attacked it as overly polemical. Mr. Roach was not deterred. “I’ll never play anything again that has no social meaning,” he told Down Beat magazine after the album was released. “We American jazz musicians of African origin have undoubtedly proven that we are master musicians of our instruments. Now we need to use our skills to tell the dramatic story of our people and what we went through. “

“We insist!” was not a commercial success, but it encouraged Mr. Roach to broaden his scope as a composer. Soon he was working with choreographers, filmmakers and Off Broadway playwrights on projects including a stage version of We Insist!

Abby Lincoln’s powerful wordless scream in “Tears for Johannesburg” gives the suite a vocal dimension.

I always felt that this Roach and Brown Jr. tune would become our 19th century anthem.

Freedom day

Whisper, hear, whisper, listen. Whisper says we’re free
Rumors fly, must lie. Can it really be
Can’t imagine, can’t believe But that’s what they say.
No longer slave, no longer slave, this is freedom day.
Freedom Day, it’s freedom day. Throw away those shackles and chains.
Everyone I see says it’s really true, we are free.

Whisper, hear, whisper, listen. Whisper says we’re free
Rumors fly, must lie. Can it really be
Can’t imagine, don’t believe But that’s what they say.
No longer slave, no longer slave, this is freedom day.

Freedom Day, it’s freedom day. Throw away those shackles and chains.
Everyone I see says it’s really true, we are free.

Freedom Day, it’s freedom day. Free to choose and earn my wages.
Darken my way and hide the way. But we made it to Freedom Day.

Hearing Max Roach talk about music history, his own history and black politics has long fascinated me over the years. He was a great educator.

Here he is in a clip with children at the Harlem School of the Arts teaching them improvisation in On the Edge: Improvisation in Music, which was produced by UK Channel 4 in 1992. The four-part miniseries was written and produced by British guitarist Derek Bailey.

The Howard University Jazz Oral History Project (HUJOHP) has a fascinating collection of jazz interviews.

The Howard University Jazz Oral History Project (HUJOHP) was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1986 and focuses on the development of jazz music from the 1940s to the late 1950s. These years are often referred to as the bebop era by musicologists – one of the most innovative and creative periods in American music history. The bebop style formed the basis of modern music around the world and is still an important influencing factor after more than 60 years. The main objective of the project was to conduct in-depth interviews with musicians who were active during Bebop’s “52nd Street Period”. In the 1940s, several jazz clubs on 52nd Street in New York City presented new music that was the culmination of a style created and cultivated by African American musicians.[…]

Oral stories were completed with Art Blakey, Ray Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Barry Harris, Jimmy Heath, Milt Jackson, Jacquet from Illinois, Philly Joe Jones, John Lewis, James Moody, Max Roach, Charlie Rouse, Billy Taylor and Clark Terry.

The HUJOHP interview with Max Roach was conducted by the then young future jazz historian WA “Bill” Brower. Roach talks about his commitment to movement and bringing together elements from gospel and jazz.

A complete transcript of the interview is available for download here.

Another in-depth interview with Roach is now available online. In it, the visual artist Jomo Cheatham speaks to the legend in Chicago in May 1993. It’s fascinating to hear how Roach moved from the south to New York City during the Depression, how the WPA affected black artists, and how the During this time he discovered drumming when his parents were in a daycare center for him and his older brother turned off the church.

In 1981 Roach recorded “The Dream / It’s Time” in homage to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on. The cut showed Roach on drums, glockenspiel, tympani and percussion; Odean Pope on tenor saxophone, alto flute and oboe; Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet and flugelhorn; and Calvin Hill on bass. Dr. King’s legendary speech unfolds in a duet with Roach’s drum.

The album title Chattahoochee Red refers to this year’s Atlanta Child Murders.

In the early 1980s, the city of Atlanta, Georgia was terrorized by the Atlanta child murders. Many of the bodies were recovered from the Chattahoochee River, and the title refers to the victims’ bloodshed.

The Atlanta child murders were featured in an HBO documentary series recently after Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reopened the cases.

While looking for clips to include here, I came across this celebration of Max Roach’s music from North Carolina. Seems like a good place to close.

His legacy lives on.

See you in the comments for more Max Roach – and other great jazz drummers past and present.

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