Max Roach on Establishing a Musical Personality

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Max Roach

SKF NOTE: Max Roach had recently played a concert with his M’Boom percussion ensemble on the same bill as the World Saxophone Quartet – a saxophones only group — when I interviewed Max in his Connecticut home in the early 1980s. I told Max Modern Drummer‘s Feature Editor, Rick Mattingly, was at the show and Rick told me, of the two groups, M’Boom was playing more melodic.

“I don’t know about that,”Max smiled, referring to the World Saxophone Quartet as “another courageous group of young musicians who are fantastic instrumentalists as well. Writers and composers,” Max said.

“I notice that the World Saxophone Quartet — they have come up with a way that four people can improvise, four voices can talk at the same time, and say different things, but relate to the same subject — and it sounds very musical,” Max continued.

“When [M’Boom] first began to do this I realized that [the World Saxophone Quartet] had done a lot of listening to each other in order to come up with that combination of things. Because when you listen very carefully to what they’re doing — it’s very transparent. You hear all four of the voices, and they all are going their own way. But they never interfere with any of the other voices. It’s really a revelation.”

Scott K Fish: That’s tough to do.

Max Roach: It is. Well, you have to work with the person for a while.

I know, talking to [Papa] Jo Jones, he commented one day on something like [how] it’s very important about, How does a person develop his own musical personality?

Well, [Papa Jo] says, firstly you have to be in a situation for a few years — in the same musicial setting — so that you can develop your character. Much the same as [an actor in] a play. If somebody gives you a script, and you take this character and you develop that character — that character becomes you now, with the way you deal with that character.

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Papa Jo Jones

Well, [Papa Jo Jones] was explaining why today there might not be as much individuality among players as there was when he was coming up. You could always tell, “Oh, that’s Sidney Catlett,” or “That’s Krupa,” or “That’s Jo Jones,” or “This is O’Neil Spencer.” You could hear it right away and know. “Oh, I know who that is. That’s this person. Lester Young!”

Well, Jo said these people had an opportunity to work in one situation for a certain amount of time, so they could develop their own music character within that situation.

Then when they left there, then Lester Young had established his musical character so that when he played the first few notes you knew who that was.

Some of the people today can do that because of that. I notice most of the people who have an identifiable, an easily identifiable musical character, are those who are with steady groups and they travel around.

SKF: It’s like a ball team.

MR: Yeah. It’s an interesting idea. You have to be there to play every night and deal with your instrument. And deal with yourself in a situation that allows you a chance to experiment and add and discard, and add and discard — so, finally you come up with something.

Max Roach Photo Credit
Papa Jo Jones Photo Credit

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