Max Roach and Steve Gadd

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SKF NOTE: Yesterday I remembered an early 1980s phone conversation I had with Max Roach.

I couldn’t remember why Mr. Roach and I had the conversation. But this morning I can fill in the blanks.

I was still Modern Drummer’s Managing Editor, because I remember talking with Max at my MD desk, on my MD phone. We were perhaps discussing a Modern Drummer festival. The first MD Festival took place years later, but it’s quite feasible the idea for MD hosting a drummer event was in play. Drum forums and clinics were certainly in play at that time.

I was floating the idea of having Max onstage with one of his contemporaries: Philly Joe Jones, for example.

To my surprise, Max didn’t like that idea, saying something like, “It seems everytime I’m invited to these events, the people in charge want to pair me with Art Blakey or another drummer like that. I’d rather be onstage with Steve Gadd.”

When Max said that, I froze for a moment, picturing my hero, Max Roach, getting carved up onstage, in public, by Steve Gadd.

Max just didn’t have the chops to compete with Gadd. Didn’t Max know that?

Remembering that conversation and my thinking at the time makes me cringe.

Max Roach, as he demonstrated throughout his career, was a pioneer. His point was, why do something that’s been done so often before? Like putting Max onstage with Art Blakey? Why not be creative by doing something like putting an older generation drum pioneer (Roach) onstage with a new generation pioneer (Gadd) and listen to what happens.

Of course, Max Roach was spot on. I had some musical growing up to do.

Instead of fretting over who had the most chops, I should have been imagining the musical possibilities of pairing Steve Gadd and Max Roach.

I’m sorry I missed that.

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