Max Roach Dead at 83

"Art is a powerful weapon that society, or the powers that be, use to control or direct the way people think. Culture is used to perpetuate the status quo of a society. Even though I'm involved in music for the sake of entertainment, I always hope to offer some kind of enlightenment." - Max Roach

Max Roach, one of the most significant drummers of jazz and certainly one of my favorites, thought of jazz as a "democratic musical form" that comes from a "communal experience." Helping to 'un-define' the role of drummers as a mere "subservient figure," Roach opened music listeners to the idea that sound can be a force for social change. Shattering jazz hierarchies and exploring the subtle timbres and textural play that drumming afforded, Roach's brilliant career found him playing with everyone from Charles Mingus and Clifford Brown to free-jazzers Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton.

Blacklisted for a period in the '60s by club owners and record companies for his overt politics (heard on albums like We Insist!, It's Time, and Speak, Brother, Speak!), Max Roach was obviously never one to shy away from merging art and politics. His conception of music went beyond simply notes and rhythms -- it became a vehicle for his thoughts, his ideas. “My point is that we much decolonize our minds and re-name and re-define ourselves... In all respects, culturally, politically, socially, we must re-define ourselves and our lives, in our own terms.”

Of course, most of Roach's contributions to jazz were not overtly political, but with jazz becoming more and more a museum artifact and background music for White House banquets, I like to think that his overall contribution to jazz was more "enlightenment" than "entertainment."

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