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Max Roach
"Pan belongs on a world stage" - Max Roach

In the Spotlight


New York, USA - Master drummer extraordinaire, Max Roach, passed away on the morning of August 16, 2007.  He was a personal friend of When Steel Talks (WST), and an ardent supporter of the steelpan instrument, the steel orchestra and the steelpan movement and community.  Max Roach was a giant whose genius will be missed.  He leaves behind a body of work that more than validates the belief that he was the greatest drummer ever - "Before he was 30, he had been voted the greatest jazz drummer of all time by a panel of 100 peers,"  and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1995.  Max.  He constantly championed the position that the "steelpan belonged on the world stage," in words and deeds.  (See Vol 24  No. 181 Daily Challenge newspaper - Monday November 27, 1995 - pg 13 "Max Roach on the Power of Pan") 


Indeed it was Max who went to Trinidad in 1995, after a conversation with WST, to seek out steelpan artist extraordinaire Len "Boogsie" Sharpe.  So impressed was Max Roach with Boogsie's talent that he took him on tour with him as part of his group M'BOOM, and was interested in setting up a recording deal.  "Boogsie," he felt, was the "real thing" and reminded him of the great Charlie 'Bird' Parker.  He was also a great fan of the steelband music Panoramas. 


Steelpanist Garvin Blake  and Max Roach

This writer has seen and interacted with Max Roach up close and personal in many roles, for more than fifteen years.  Father, musician, leader, university professor, boss, friend, historian, protector, mentor and fierce warrior and competitor, just to name a few.  But the greatest role I will always remember him for - is that of a 'buddy' to my then-four year old daughter, Kimya, as the twosome (Max and Kimya) happily and gamely hunted down jellybeans on the floor of his kitchen in his Central Park West apartment!  Max was a man who had walked with Gods of Jazz, including the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles, Bird Parker, Coleman Hawkins, and routinely rubbed shoulders with world leaders, and had presidents call him.  And, yes, he could pick up the phone and call presidents himself - and they listened.  But it was this ability to break things down to a level to where he and a four year old were having a serious conversation about jellybeans, and were now best friends - that was the key to his genius and ability to inspire others on all levels and to unlimited heights.

Max was obviously an immensely talented, very intelligent and well-schooled individual.  He was a genius.  He had the to ability to see things that others saw in fast forward, in real time; and things most people saw in real time, in slow motion.  He was so far ahead, without even trying.  Quite similar to another genius in steelband we knew - the late master arranger Clive Bradley.

We will miss Max Roach's humor, his great stories, knowledge of history, integrity, non-comprising attitude and his ability to inspire you to great things simply by asking, "why not you"?

For more on the life of Max Roach, click here

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Max Roach speaks on the power of pan - top: Garvin Blake - left, Max Roach - right, Len "Boogsie" Sharpe



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