loss of another jazz legend

Max, who was makin wax, for years… [from the NYT] . I once saw him do some incredible shit just on the hi-hat. I dug him, but I still always dug the conceptions of Elvin, Philly and Bu a lot more… -sousa

August 18, 2007

The Beat Goes On, Minus a Virtuoso

Sitting in a narrow dressing room behind a heavy red curtain at the Birdland jazz club in Midtown, the saxophonist James Moody, 82, rested his head in his hand and remembered gigs with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and someone else: Max Roach, his longtime friend, the legendary jazz drummer who died on Thursday at age 83.

It had been quite some time since Mr. Moody had seen him. But he remembered gigs in Germany with “Dizzy and Roach,†and his 70th birthday, which he spent with a bunch of the old-timers, the legends.

“He was, like, the beginning,†Mr. Moody said of Mr. Roach, one of the founders of the sometimes fractured, always rhythmic style of post-World War II jazz known as bebop. “He was an innovator. He changed it all. â€

Mr. Moody then pushed aside the curtain and walked into the room he had just torn down with his quartet. Through the crowd, he spotted another jazz legend, Jimmy Heath. The two men embraced and laughed, and soon their talk returned to Mr. Roach. And to the old days.

So it was late Thursday and early yesterday, as the first jazz sets played around the city after Mr. Roach’s death. At the Village Vanguard and the Blue Note, at Birdland and in the studios of Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR, Mr. Roach was being remembered simply as “the beginning.â€

Bebop has deep roots in New York, and Mr. Roach grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, so his death had special resonance here. Still, there was more laughter than tears when his life was recalled.

“It was his technique,†said Mr. Heath, 81, also a saxophonist. “And his concepts were so innovative. But he wasn’t only a drummer. The thing about Max was he was always fighting for the rights of African-American people, that we were creative, worthy people.â€

They were joined by the trumpeter Jon Faddis, 54, a protégé of Dizzy Gillespie’s, and Phoebe Jacobs, 89, a jazz education advocate and longtime friend of Mr. Roach’s who worked in some of the clubs he played early in his career.

The group remembered an incident at a Miles Davis show, when Mr. Roach took to the stage with a protest sign — “something to do with Africa or black people,†Mr. Heath recalled — and sat there with the sign held high above his head. “Miles was like, ‘Man, why did you have to do that during my set?’ †Mr. Heath recalled, laughing with Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Moody.

Phil Schaap, a longtime jazz disc jockey at WKCR, has dedicated the entire week after Mr. Roach’s death to playing his music.

“He was one of the daddies of the bebop era,†said Richard Okon, 62, the manager of the Blue Note. “Max took the music and played not only with his head, intellectually, but from his soul and his whole heart.â€

Mr. Roach’s New York, at least the one he tromped about in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, was much different from today’s scene.

On 52nd Street, once known as Swing Street, jazz clubs like the Three Deuces, the Onyx, the Famous Door and the Yacht Club lined the sidewalks between Fifth and Seventh Avenues.

And there were the clubs in Harlem and in the Village where jazz reigned supreme. Smoke, even some from cigarettes, was everywhere.

Today, only a few of the old-time clubs remain, the Village Vanguard being the oldest, but the jazz and memories of Mr. Roach and the other great ones, alive and dead, still permeate their walls. Their spirits, like the grainy black and white photographs that hang on the walls of the Vanguard, the Blue Note and the new Birdland, remind enthusiasts and curious tourists alike that jazz is still alive, though some of its most revered messengers have faded away.

Inside the Blue Note, Mr. Okon, the manager, ushered a couple of European tourists past a well-lighted bar and a wall of homage, bearing photographs of the many legendary musicians who have graced its stage.

Along with the likes of Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, Betty Carter, Milt Jackson and others hung a picture of Mr. Roach and Billy Eckstein.

In the dark, wedge-shaped Village Vanguard — where Mr. Roach, already established, first performed on Feb. 10, 1959 — Max Koslow, 62, a club regular, nodded his head, catching the beat of a number by Mr. Roach and Clifford Brown that wafted from the club’s speakers.

He sat in his usual Thursday-night seat a few feet from the stage, waiting for a buddy to arrive. It was just a few minutes before showtime. Mr. Koslow nodded his head and mused on Mr. Roach’s legacy. “It was his use of rhythms and polyrhythms,†Mr. Koslow said, slowly sipping from a glass of Cognac.

The performances on this night were dedicated to Max Roach, the club’s manager said. “He was one of the old cats that still came by,†said Marty Elkins, a longtime waitress at the club. “But I hadn’t seen him around for the past couple years.â€

In a back office at the club that over the decades has doubled as a dressing room for many a great musician, Steve Wilson was preparing to take the stage with his quartet.

“Max formed the idea of a drum being a melodic instrument,†Mr. Wilson, 46, said. “He’s an important figure in our music and our culture. Max is one of the important spirits that walk the room with us and takes that stage we’re about to step on. He is a great architect of American music, a great architect of African-American music.â€

As midnight approached, and many of the late jazz sets of the night had ended, the faint sounds of drumming rose from the subway. The drummers were playing not on drum kits, but on the bottoms of buckets. Still, there was something familiar about their erratic rhythms.

“He was the beginning of it all,†Mr. Moody said.

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