How Max Roach Changed Drumming
History of Jazz Music
November 14, 2012
Max Roach changed the role of drummers going from timekeepers to active players with the form and structure of the song, following and playing off the melody and the other musicians while
still maintaining the form of the song. He developed his ideas logically and thematically, which is why
“Max took his cues from the style of the arrangement” (Korall, 96, 2002).
Born in North Carolina but raised in Brooklyn, Max Roach started playing piano at 8 and drums
by 10. When not in school he could be found at church playing and studying music. He was
considered a music fanatic who would always have a pair of sicks or brushes with him at all times.
Eventually he started playing professionally, working sideshows at Coney Island which could be as
many as 18 per day! After this he would search for jams trying eagerly to play as much as possible.
This lead to subbing in for Sonny Greer with the Duke Ellington Band at the paramount Theatre.
Soon after he started playing with Charlie Parker and the true genius of his playing started to
“I've always felt that the drummer should not be a subserviant figure” (Korall, 97, 2002) Max had
a deep understanding of how music worked through his ability to play piano and also from studying
composition at the Manhattan school of music. “Although his time playing and comping helped shape
the language of bebop drumming, the most profoundly innovative accomplishments in Max's musical
career are found in his artistic soloing concepts. Max is often called “the most melodic drummer ever,
” but when questioned about his melodic inventiveness, Max stated that he was in fact more interested
in musical structure. He thought more about architecture and form of his phrases than about the
melody.” (modern drummer, 99, 2007) This is evident in the structure of his solos. If we look
at the transcription (Conor Guilfoyle) of his 2 chorus solo@3:07 (example 1) in the song Sandu, we
will better understand how he melodically and structurally expressed his ideas. He opens the solo with
a classic 6 beat triplet phrase. He then repeats the same 6 beat phrase idea but foreshadows a new idea
on the first beat of the phrase, the 16th note triplet. In bar 5 he introduces a new idea with a 6 beat 16th
note phrase. In bar 7 he then develops the 16th note triplet idea, that he foreshadowed on the 1st beat of
bar 3. In bar 8 he goes back to the 16th note idea for 4 beats and for the last 4 bars( two 8 beat phrases)
he goes back to his initial triplet idea. At the start of the 2nd chorus he brings in a new 16th note phrase
for 4 bars and then re-introduces 2 bars of 16th notes followed by 2 bars of triplets. The last 4 bars of
the solo is a deliberate outline of the songs melody which lets everyone know he is done.
Analyzing this solo shows that... “Max does not toss off his ideas. He repeats them and develops
them with clarity and intent......similar in structure to a recapitulation in classical music . Max
paraphrases ideas that he introduced earlier to bring the solo to a mature and pleasing conclusion.”
(modern drummer, 99, 2007) He uses two basic melodic/rhythmic ideas with triplets and 16th notes
but by altering their configuration slightly he introduces some new ideas based on the old ones!
“..... drummer had developed a declarative, expanded language on the