Max Roach: One Original Idea


SKF NOTE: I first saw Max Roach live in a Chicago jazz club with his quartet. Cecil Bridgewater (flugelhorn), Odean Pope (sax), and I can’t remember the bassist. Maybe it was Calvin Hill.

I noticed a twentysomething guy sitting in the audience with a trumpet case. Was he a musician I should know? A local talent?

Max invited the unknown trumpet player onstage to play a tune all the musicians knew, but I’ve forgotten! When it was his turn, the twentysomething trumpet player blew a series of choruses. Finally, Max raised his left hand, signaling his band members to end the tune. And they did.

The trumpeter went back to his seat while Max came from behind his drumset to the mic at center stage. And in his professorial way, Max criticized the guest musician for wasting the band’s time and the audience’s time with solos of running scales and arpeggios – while having nothing original to say.

I have been fortunate, Max said, to have played with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and other great musicians. Each of these musicians, Max said, had one original idea. And you heard it in everything they played. And they were able to make themselves heard among people without being oppressive about it.


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