Max Roach The Drum Also Waltzes

Essential: Max Roach

Max Roach is a colossus in jazz, embodying the quintessence of musical innovation, political activism, and the pursuit of artistic truth. His contributions to the genre are milestones in a celebrated career and beacons of influence that have illuminated countless musicians’ paths. In delving deeper into the essence of Roach’s legacy, we uncover ten seminal milestones of his career and legacy that underscore his indelible impact on jazz and beyond.

You can learn all about this legend of jazz when IN-EDIT NL presents the Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes during our sixth edition. But before that, we explore ten essentials of his legacy. What do you think are the most important aspects of Max Roach’s influence?

The Advent of Bebop

In the crucible of the 1940s, bebop emerged as a revolutionary force in jazz, with Max Roach at its rhythmic helm. Collaborating with icons like Charlie Parker, Roach’s drumming on pieces such as Ko-Ko redefined the role of the drum kit in jazz. His innovative approach—marked by rapid-fire tempos, complex polyrhythms, and a profound dynamic sensitivity—challenged and expanded the technical and expressive boundaries of jazz drumming. This period was not merely a phase of stylistic evolution but a radical reimagining of jazz as a medium for intricate musical conversation.

Clifford Brown and Max Roach (1954)
Clifford Brown and Max Roach

This landmark album represents a zenith in Roach’s career, showcasing his partnership with the prodigious trumpeter Clifford Brown. Their collaboration birthed a body of work as a cornerstone of jazz ensemble playing. The interplay between Roach’s drumming and Brown’s trumpet on tracks such as Joy Spring and Daahoud exemplifies an ideal equilibrium between rhythmic foundation and melodic flight. 

Pioneering the Drum Solo 

Max Roach transformed the drum solo from a mere interlude into a central narrative device within jazz composition. His work on Drums Unlimited employs the drum kit as a storyteller’s canvas, painting rhythms that speak of tension, triumph, and tragedy. This approach to drum solos elevated the role of the drummer to that of a primary storyteller.

Integration of Polyrhythms 

Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes
Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes, a film by Sam Pollard, Ben Shapiro

Roach’s exploration of polyrhythms was revolutionary, introducing complexity and richness to jazz deeply rooted in African musical traditions. His ability to simultaneously articulate multiple rhythmic layers showcased his virtuosic skill and his deep cultural reverence and intellectual curiosity. This polyrhythmic approach created a textured, multidimensional sound that broadly expanded the expressive possibilities of jazz drumming and music-making.

We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (1960)

We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Suite

This album exemplifies Roach’s commitment to civil rights and social justice. Through compositions like Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace, Roach melded his musical genius with his activist convictions, crafting a work that resonates with the urgency of the civil rights movement. The album’s innovative fusion of jazz, African rhythms, and narrative depth makes it a milestone work in the canon of protest music.


M'Boom Re:Percussion

Roach’s founding of M’Boom in the 1970s brought together an all-percussion ensemble that explored the vast landscapes of rhythmic instrumentation. M’Boom was a radical departure from conventional jazz ensembles, demonstrating Roach’s belief in the drum’s melodic potential and his commitment to pushing the boundaries of musical expression.

Brush Technique 

a set of brushed resting on a drum

Roach’s mastery of brushwork set new standards for dynamic range and expressive depth in jazz drumming. His approach went beyond traditional uses, employing brushes to craft sounds that could whisper, sing, or roar. This mastery of brushes contributed to a richer, more nuanced drumming vocabulary.

Money Jungle (1962) with Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus 

Money Jungle

This album highlights Roach’s discography, showcasing his ability to engage in deep musical dialogues within the intimate setting of a trio. His interactions with Ellington and Mingus are marked by a profound musical empathy, with Roach’s drumming anchoring and propelling the conversation. 

Timekeeping Innovations 

playing to a click track for drums
Roach’s approach to timekeeping was characterized by a fluid, elastic sense of time. His innovative use of the ride cymbal, in particular, allowed him to imply multiple tempos and swing feels, enriching the music’s rhythmic texture without overwhelming it. This nuanced approach to timekeeping redefined the role of the jazz drummer as capable of shaping the music’s temporal flow with subtlety and sophistication.

The Survivors Project

Max Roach Survivors
This endeavor saw Roach experimenting with one of the first digital drum kits, a pioneering move. The Survivors project was significant for its use of emerging technology and for allowing Roach to explore new rhythmic possibilities, layering sounds and incorporating electronic textures in ways that traditional acoustic setups could not facilitate.