Saturday, August 25, 2007

Max Roach Is Remembered for Music and More

Max Roach Is Remembered for Music and More

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Colleagues of Mr. Roach’s performing.

Published: August 25, 2007

Max Roach was remembered at his funeral not just as a brilliant drummer who helped bring about radical changes in American music, but also as a committed activist who worked hard to bring about radical changes in American society.

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Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Bill Cosby at Max Roach’s funeral.

Mr. Roach “used his music as an instrument of our struggle,” the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III of Abyssinian Baptist Church said in eulogizing Mr. Roach, who died on Aug. 16 at the age of 83. Mr. Roach’s funeral, held yesterday morning at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, drew a capacity crowd of friends, admirers and fellow musicians.

Former President Bill Clinton, in a statement read by Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, praised Mr. Roach as “one of the first jazz musicians to align his craft with the goals of the civil rights movement.”

But Mr. Roach’s musical contributions were not neglected. The writer Amiri Baraka, while noting that the music Mr. Roach and the singer Abbey Lincoln made in the 1960s was “part of the liberation movement,” also read a poem that included a long list of musicians who owed Mr. Roach an artistic debt. Bill Cosby said that he owed Mr. Roach a different kind of debt — and that Mr. Roach had owed him one, too.

“Why I became a comedian is because of Max Roach,” he said. “I wanted to be a drummer.”
As a young jazz fan in Philadelphia, Mr. Cosby explained, he tried to teach himself to play drums by copying records and watching the great jazz drummers in action. But when he first saw Mr. Roach, he said, he was awed by his virtuosity and realized that “there were no tricks, nothing I could take.”

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Cosby told the crowd, he decided that the rudimentary drum kit for which he had paid $75 was not for him. And, he added, when he finally met Mr. Roach some years later, the first thing he said to him was, “You owe me $75.”

As befits a memorial for a man recognized as one of the architects of modern jazz, music played an important part in the service. The vocalist Cassandra Wilson, the pianists Randy Weston and Billy Taylor, and the saxophonist Jimmy Heath were among those who performed.

Mr. Heath performed an unaccompanied improvisation on a song whose title encapsulated what many of the speakers said about Mr. Roach: “There Will Never Be Another You.”

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Friends, Family Remember Jazz Great Max Roach

August 24, 2007

Friends, family and fans gathered Friday morning to say goodbye to the legendary drummer who helped define the sound of bebop jazz.

His funeral service at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights included music, memories, praise, and poetry.

Mourners from all walks of life came to pay tribute, including poets Maya Angelou and Sonya Sanchez and politicians Congressman Charles Rangel and Lieutenant Governor David Patterson.

Mourners said Roach’s contribution to jazz cannot be overstated.

"He's my friend and his history and what he leaves is very, very important in terms of the music, the bebop, the progressive end of it,” said actor/comedian Bill Cosby. “It was class and intelligent and academic but within your reach 'cause he was a teacher.”

“He was actually a great man and he was a true genius, but a great one,” said music critic Stanley Crouch.

“I was lucky to be his friend and I was lucky to know a hero. Max Roach was the greatest,” said jazz expert Phil Schaap. “You know, we don't have that many old-time jazz masters – certainly not from the age of the prophets. But I don't even know how many great Americans we have and we lost one."

Reverend James Forbes led the service and Reverend Calvin Butts gave the eulogy. His five children spoke, as well. The funeral also featured a video presentation showing Roach playing in Israel. In it he says being called "a legend" means you're getting old.

Roach was born in North Carolina in 1924, but spent most of his life in Brooklyn. He got his first big break when he was just 16 years old, and went on to work with greats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Roach died last Thursday at the age of 83 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, where other jazz royalty like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis were also laid to rest.

- Stephanie Simon

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