Max Roach: Every Drummer Should Play a Melodic Instrument


SKF NOTE: This exchange with Max Roach took place on July 15, 1981 at his home in Connecticut. The back story is posted here

I asked Mr. Roach if he thought musicians should be aware of the business side of music. He said, yes, musicians should be aware to guard against people taking advantage of them. But, said Roach, musicians should leave the business side to professional music business people, and concentrate on the creative side.


Max Roach: When [I] teach up there at U. Mass., or I get to advise a student, I tell him to concentrate on the art. Concentrate on developing technique in every aspect.

I am a firm believer that every drummer should play, should also perform on, a melodic instrument. Mallet instrument, preferably.

And, of course, keyboard harmony on piano.

I teach theory…at the school. That was my major in school, not percussion.

When I get a student who plays a melodic instrument, I insist they learn how to play drums. Just keep time.

So, say I have the reed section. I insist they have a jam session amongst themselves — and create their own rhythm section out of the reed section.

The drummers…should do the same kind of thing. They should have the melodic and harmonic properties available to themselves — and learn these properties. It all helps, even though their major is percussion. [W]hen [a drummer] sit[s] down, [they’re] not just sitting in there as a percussionist, and that’s all [they’re] aware of. You’re aware of everything that’s going on around you.

And I find — especially working with M’Boom today, some of the most interesting and original compositional concepts are coming from percussion players. I listen to some of Tony Williams‘s work. I listen to some of the things Billy Cobham hears. It’s interesting, and it’s another concept.

So, I encourage students who are drummers and percussion players to do some writing as well.

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