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Jazz World Mourns Loss of Max Roach


Master percussionist and composer Max Roach died yesterday after a long illness. He was 83 years old. Roach was born in North Carolina, January 10, 1924. He moved to Brooklyn with his family four years later. Max Roach's father gave him his first set of drums when he was an eighth grader. He was a natural. In 1940, the self-taught Roach debuted with Duke Ellington's band at just 16. His remarkable career spanned some 60 years.

He created music that connected the jazz of the pre-World War II era with the rhyme and rhythm of the hip-hop generation. His music reverberates with today's musicians like Terence Blanchard.

Mr. TERENCE BLANCHARD (Musician): Well, Max Roach for me was probably one of the most melodic drummers on the planet. I remember when I would listen to his group with Clifford Brown and he would take a drum solo, the first thing I would think of was, wow, he's not just banging on the drums. He's not just playing the latest hip or the hippest poly-rhythmic phrase. He's actually playing melodies.

CROSSLEY: Now, what about his fast hands that everybody talked about? He played so fast.

Mr. BLANCHARD: Oh, well, yeah. I mean, some people always used to say he played - the tempos that he played were so fast it was basically like a vibration.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLANCHARD: You know? I mean, he's a pioneer. I mean, he came along with Bird, Dizzy and all of those guys. Those guys were visionaries. And I've always been eternally thankful to those guys. And the thing that I loved about Max is that he's always remained true to his art, because even in his later years, he was still pushing the envelope. He was trying different configurations with his groups, always trying to write new music, always trying to find new avenues, never just rested on the fact that he was a jazz legend. He was always trying to find something new and new ways to express himself.

CROSSLEY: Did you ever meet him? Do you have any favorite memories about him?

Mr. BLANCHARD: Oh, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLANCHARD: I met Max Roach, you know, when I first started playing with Art Blakey. I was 19 years old, and we were playing at a club in New York called Fat Tuesdays. And these are the people who were sitting at the table - it was Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette and Max Roach.


Mr. BLANCHARD: And I walked over and Art had - he was already over there by this time and he was talking to the guys. And he goes, he says, hey, Max, this is the trumpet player in the band. And Max turned around and he grabbed me by my calf, and I just remember this guy was so strong I couldn't move. And I went, oh, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CROSSLEY: And what will his legacy be, do you think?

Mr. BLANCHARD: He was one of the forerunners of the modern jazz movement. He inspired so many other musicians, not only drummers, to try to reach those levels of mastery and artistry. And that's the thing I think that's the most interesting about him as an artist. I mean, he was a technician, obviously, but he was a technician who was an artist first. You know, and sometimes those things don't necessarily come together. But this guy here, he was a true visionary and he will be sorely missed.

CROSSLEY: Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. BLANCHARD: Thank you for having me.

CROSSLEY: Terence Blanchard is a trumpeter and music composer. He has a new CD called "A Tale of God's Will: A Requiem for Katrina". Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.