Max Roach (1924-2007) was one of the most important drummers in history, and this month is the centennial of his birth. Over his illustrious career, he played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, and many more. We were thrilled to have Max Roach appear in State of the Arts‘s Trenton studio in 1994, where he gave this performance. It’s our most popular video ever on our YouTube channel with well over 832,000 views—for good reason. Then a mere 70 years old, he set up a single hi-hat and gave a truly virtuosic performance. Watch as he plays with time and texture, embracing all parts of the instrument in this display of not only his talent, but his immense creativity.
As user @holasoyrenee puts it in a Youtube comment, “He tries to demonstrate that with only one part of the drum you can create a whole world.” Others in the comment section share anecdotes and admiration for his lasting influence on drumming.
After blowing away everyone in the State of the Arts studio that day, producer Susan Wallner remembers how Max gave his drumsticks to a member of our crew—it was an unforgettable moment that exemplified his kindness as well as his enthusiasm for sharing the music.
One of the legendary members of the Max Roach Quintet, pianist Stanley Cowell (1941-2020), was also featured on State of the Arts: check out his story from 2013 here.
Max Roach’s contributions to music history are being celebrated in multiple events this month. In Philadelphia on January 21, enjoy a night with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JLCO) with Wynton Marsalis for the Kimmel Center’s Max Roach Centennial Celebration! Plus, head over to NJPAC in Newark on January 26 with performances honoring Max Roach, featuring Cassandra Wilson, Ravi Coltrane, Sonia Sanchez, Saul Williams, Nasheet Waits, and more!