Max Roach: Rise of the 18″ Bass Drum Legend

SKF NOTE: This exchange with Max Roach took place on July 15, 1981 at his home in Connecticut. The opportunity to meet Max Roach and interview him for a Modern Drummer cover story was a dream come true. Max had recently released his Chattahoochee Red album. I especially liked Max’s mixed media use of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with a new Max Roach drumset solo, The Dream / It’s Time.

But I missed the Max Roach drum sound I fell in love with many years earlier. On Chattahoochee Red, Max is playing Ludwig drums with thicker drumheads –Ludwig Silver Dot drum heads, I believe. Our interview gave me a chance to ask Max about his new sound and many other questions.

Max’s drumset at the time of this interview? “I’m playing a 22″ bass drum, 12″ and 13″ mounted toms, a 16″ floor tom, and a 14” [floor tom] which is a tuneable floor tom with a Meazzi footpedal. That’s alot of fun,” Max said.

Also, I wanted to solve the Rise of the 18″ Bass Drum Legend once and for all. Max Roach was a perfect drummer to ask.

Scott K Fish: Back in the ’50s and ’60s jazz drummers were primarily using the smaller size drums: 18″ bass, 12″ mounted tom, and 14″ floor tom. I’ve heard that one of the main reasons drummers used that size bass drum was because they were easier to transport than larger drums.


Meazzi FloorPedal

Max Roach: Exactly. It made it easier to get from town to town. Pack up your gear, put it in your car — your [station] wagon, and off you go. That was one of the main reasons, I think. Plus the bass drum had begun to become less and less an integral part of the whole musical set-up.

It’s coming back now. It’s different now. Because the bass drum at that time would stamp out what was happening with the [acoustic] bass. Even the pianists would leave that part. They would voice their chords and the bottom of the piano would be in thirds and sevenths instead of tonics and fifths. They left [tonics and fifths] for the [acoustic] bass.

So your bass drum would only be used for accents. And support. So the small drum was great. Plus, you didn’t have all the electronics around you, so you didn’t need that power there.

There were many reasons [why ’50s and ’60s jazz drummers used smaller size drums.] But today you do need that power with the electronic scene.

SKF: The bigger drums?

MR: Yeah. You need that power. When you go into a studio today, or even a concert hall, sometimes in a concert hall I’ll have at least five microphones on the [drum]set: One for the foot cymbal and snare; bass drum is two; two hanging overhead will cover the top area, and one on the side that will capture the tom-toms. At least five [microphones]. You could do with even more.

Credit for Hollywood Floor Tom Photo 


About Scott K Fish
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3 Responses to Max Roach: Rise of the 18″ Bass Drum Legend

  1. Pingback: With Max Roach and His Drums | Scott K Fish

  2. Pingback: Max Roach: The Quarter Note is the Common Denominator | Scott K Fish

  3. Pingback: Max Roach: What You’re Playing for is Sound | Scott K Fish

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