Greg Poppleton

21 May - Hear 1940s Jazz Harpsichord on this week's Phantom Dancer LISTEN

Max Roach Most Important Drummer – Phantom Dancer 20 April 2021

Max Roach was one of the most important drummers in history. The bebop pioneer was also a composer and is this week’s Phantom Dancer feature artist. The Phantom Dancer – your non-stop mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio and TV hosted by me, Greg Poppleton.

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Max Roach began playing drums in his church at age 10. At 18, in 1942, Duke Ellington booked him to fill in for Ellington drummer, Sonny Greer, at the Paramount Theatre, NYC.

He made his first professional recording backing Coleman Hawkins in 1943.

In 1945 he played on Charlie Parker’s pioneering bop records and he backed bop pioneers Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and Bud Powell on radio and discs. Radio airchecks of these collaborations will be heard on this week’s show.


In the late 1940s, Roach traveled to Hailti to study with the traditional drummer Ti Roro.

He studied classical percussion at the Manhattan School of Music from 1950 to 1953, working toward a Bachelor of Music degree. The school awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in 1990.

Long involved in jazz education, in 1972 Roach was recruited to the faculty of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He taught at the university until the mid-1990s.


In 1952, Roach co-founded Debut Records with bassist Charles Mingus. The label released a record of the 1953 Massey Hall Concert featuring Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Mingus, and Roach. The label also put out the groundbreaking bass-and-drum free improvisationPercussion Discussion.

In 1954, Roach and trumpeter Clifford Brown formed a quintet that also featured tenor saxophonist Harold Land, pianist Richie Powell (brother of Bud Powell), and bassist George Morrow. Land left the quintet the following year and was replaced by Sonny Rollins. You’ll hear this band with Sonny Rollins on this week’s Phantom Dancer from a live radio broadcast.

In 1955, he played drums for vocalist Dinah Washington at several live appearances and recordings. He appeared with Washington at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, which was filmed, and at the 1954 live studio audience recording of Dinah Jams, considered to be one of the best and most overlooked vocal jazz albums of its genre.


In 1960 he composed and recorded the album We Insist! (subtitled Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite), with vocals by his then-wife Abbey Lincoln and lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr., after being invited to contribute to commemorations of the hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation. In 1962, he recorded the album Money Jungle, a collaboration with Mingus and Duke Ellington. This is generally regarded as one of the finest trio albums ever recorded.

During the 1970s, Roach formed M’Boom, a percussion orchestra. Each member composed for the ensemble and performed on multiple percussion instruments. Personnel included Fred King, Joe ChambersWarren SmithFreddie WaitsRoy Brooks, Omar Clay, Ray Mantilla, Francisco Mora, and Eli Fountain.


In the early 1980s, Roach presented solo concerts, demonstrating that multiple percussion instruments performed by one player could fulfill the demands of solo performance and be entirely satisfying to an audience. He created memorable compositions in these solo concerts.

Roach also embarked on a series of duet recordings. Departing from the style he was best known for, most of the music on these recordings is free improvisation, created with Cecil TaylorAnthony BraxtonArchie Shepp, and Abdullah Ibrahim. Roach created duets with other performers, including: a recorded duet with oration of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr.; a duet with video artist Kit Fitzgerald, who improvised video imagery while Roach created the music; a duet with his lifelong friend and associate Gillespie; and a duet concert recording with Mal Waldron.

He also wrote music for theater, including plays by Sam Shepard. He was composer and musical director for a festival of Shepard plays, called “ShepardSets”, at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in 1984. The festival included productions of Back Bog Beast BaitAngel City, and Suicide in B Flat. In 1985, George Ferencz directed “Max Roach Live at La MaMa: A Multimedia Collaboration”.

Roach found new contexts for performance, creating unique musical ensembles. One of these groups was “The Double Quartet”, featuring his regular performing quartet with the same personnel as above, except Tyrone Brown replaced Hill. This quartet joined “The Uptown String Quartet”, led by his daughter Maxine Roach and featuring Diane Monroe, Lesa Terry, and Eileen Folson. Another ensemble was the “So What Brass Quintet”, a group comprising five brass instrumentalists and Roach, with no chordal instrument and no bass player. Much of the performance consisted of drums and horn duets. The ensemble consisted of two trumpets, trombone, French horn, and tuba. Personnel included Cecil Bridgewater, Frank Gordon, Eddie Henderson, Rod McGaha, Steve TurreDelfeayo MarsalisRobert Stewart, Tony Underwood, Marshall Sealy, Mark Taylor, and Dennis Jeter.

Not content to expand on the music he was already known for, Roach spent the 1980s and 1990s finding new forms of musical expression and performance. He performed a concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He wrote for and performed with the Walter White gospel choir and the John Motley Singers. He also performed with dance companies, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Dianne McIntyre Dance Company, and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. He surprised his fans by performing in a hip hop concert featuring the Fab Five Freddy and the New York Break Dancers. Roach expressed the insight that there was a strong kinship between the work of these young black artists and the art he had pursued all his life.

Though Roach played with many types of ensembles, he always continued to play jazz. He performed with the Beijing Trio, with pianist Jon Jang and erhu player Jeibing Chen. His final recording, Friendship, was with trumpeter Clark Terry. The two were longtime friends and collaborators in duet and quartet. Roach’s final performance was at the 50th anniversary celebration of the original Massey Hall concert, with Roach performing solo on the hi-hat.

In 1994, Roach appeared on Rush drummer Neil Peart‘s Burning For Buddy, performing “The Drum Also Waltzes” Parts 1 and 2 on Volume 1 of the 2-volume tribute album during the 1994 All-Star recording sessions. In the early 2000s, Roach became less active due to the onset of hydrocephalus-related complications.


Roach started as a traditional grip player but used matched grip as well as his career progressed. Roach’s most significant innovations came in the 1940s, when he and Kenny Clarke devised a new concept of musical time. By playing the beat-by-beat pulse of standard 4/4 time on the ride cymbal instead of on the thudding bass drum, Roach and Clarke developed a flexible, flowing rhythmic pattern that allowed soloists to play freely. This also created space for the drummer to insert dramatic accents on the snare drumcrash cymbal, and other components of the trap set. By matching his rhythmic attack with a tune’s melody, Roach brought a newfound subtlety of expression to the drums. He often shifted the dynamic emphasis from one part of his drum kit to another within a single phrase, creating a sense of tonal color and rhythmic surprise.

Roach said of the drummer’s unique positioning, “In no other society do they have one person play with all four limbs.” While this is common today, when Clarke and Roach introduced the concept in the 1940s it was revolutionary. “When Max Roach’s first records with Charlie Parker were released by Savoy in 1945”, jazz historian Burt Korall wrote in the Oxford Companion to Jazz, “drummers experienced awe and puzzlement and even fear.”

One of those drummers, Stan Levey, summed up Roach’s importance: “I came to realize that, because of him, drumming no longer was just time, it was music.” In 1966, with his album Drums Unlimited (which includes several tracks that are entirely drum solos) he demonstrated that drums can be a solo instrument able to play theme, variations, and rhythmically cohesive phrases. Roach described his approach to music as “the creation of organized sound.”


Play List – The Phantom Dancer
107.3 2SER-FM Sydney LISTEN ONLINE Community Radio Network Show CRN #487

107.3 2SER Tuesday 20 April 2021 12:04 – 2:00pm (+10 hours GMT) and Saturdays 5 – 5:55pm National Program 5GTR Mt Gambier Monday 2:30 – 3:30am 3MBR Murrayville Monday 3 – 4am 4NAG Keppel FM Monday 3 – 4am 2SEA Eden Monday 3 – 4am 2MIA Griffith Monday 3 – 4am 2BAR Edge FM Bega Monday 3 – 4am 2BRW Braidwood Monday 3 – 4am 3VKV Alpine Radio Monday 6 – 7pm 7MID Oatlands Tuesday 8 – 9pm 1ART ArtsoundFM Canberra Friday 10 – 11am 2ARM Armidale Friday 12 – 1pm 5LCM Lofty FM Adelaide Friday 1 – 2pm 4RPH Brisbane Sunday 3 – 4am 7LTN Launceston Sunday 5 – 6am 3MGB Mallacoota Sunday 5 – 6am 6GME Radio Goolarri Broome Sunday 5 – 6am 3BBR West Gippsland Sunday 5 – 6pm

Set 1
Swing Bands 1944 Radio 
Theme + Kentucky
Bob Strong Orchestra (voc) Bob Fiola
‘One Night Stand’ Glen Island Casino New Rochelle NY AFRS Re-broadcast 20 Aug 1944
Blue Skies
Boyd Raeburn Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’ Roosevelt Hotel Washington DC AFRS Re-broadcast Feb 1944
Isle of Capri + Close
Gay Claridge Orchestra (g) Mary Osbourne
‘One Night Stand’ Chez Paree Chicago AFRS Re-broadcast 7 Aug 1944
Set 2
Vincent Valsanti (Ted Fio Rito) 
Your Blase + Sophisticated Lady
Vincent Valsanti Orchestra
Cocoanut Radio Transcription TRANSCO Los Angeles 1934
Dreaming + Was It a Dream? + It’s June in January
Vincent Valsanti Orchestra (voc) Bill Thomas
Cocoanut Radio Transcription TRANSCO Los Angeles 1934
OK Toots + Close
Vincent Valsanti Orchestra (voc) Don 1, 2 and 3
Cocoanut Radio Transcription TRANSCO Los Angeles 1934
Set 3
Trad Radio and TV 
Open + Sweet Georgia Brown
Al Hirt
‘Jazz Band Ball’ WWL CBS New Orleans 18 Aug 1956
Down Among The Sheltering Palms
Eddie Condon Group (voc) Johnny Mercer
‘Eddie Condon’s Floor Show’ WPIX TV NYC 1948
Eddie Condon Group (voc) Johnny Mercer (piano) Mary Lou Williams
‘Eddie Condon’s Floor Show’ WPIX TV NYC 1948
Set 4
Max Roach 
Koko (theme) + Hot House
Barry Ulanov’s All-Star Modern Jazz Musicians (drums) Max Roach
‘Bands for Bonds’ WOR Mutual NYC 13 Sep 1947
Max Roach – Clifford Young Quintet
‘Basin Street’ WCBS CBS NY 6 May 1956
Oo Bop Sh’Bam
Charlie Parker Quintet (drums) Max Roach
‘Symphony Sid Show’ Royal Roost WMCA NY 22 Jan 1949
Scrapple From The Apple
Charlie Parker Quintet (drums) Max Roach
‘Symphony Sid Show’ Royal Roost WMCA NY 22 Jan 1949
Set 5
1930s Dance Bands 
Open + Goody Goodbye
Ted Weems Orchestra
‘Beat the Band’ WMAQ NBC Red Chicago 1940
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
Ray Noble Orchestra
‘Coty Hour’ WEAF NBC Red NY 13 Mar 1935
Alice Blue Gown
Ozzie Nelson Orchestra
Blackhawk Restaurant WGN Mutual Chicago 30 Mar 1940
White Star of Sigma Nu
Joe Haymes Orchestra
Grill Room Hotel McAlpen WABC CBS NY 29 Jan 1935
Set 6
Sydney Swing Singers 1938-44 
Annie Laurie
Jim Davidson and his ABC Dance Orchestra (voc) Alice Smith
Comm Rec Sydney 2 Jun 1938
Say a Prayer for the Boys over There
George Trevare Orchestra (voc) Joan Blake
Comm Rec Sydney 1943
A-Tisket A-Tasket
Jim Davidson and his ABC Dance Orchestra (voc) Alice Smith
Comm Rec Sydney 2 Jun 1938
Jungle Jive
George Trevare Orchestra (voc) Elsie Wardrope
Comm Rec Sydney 1944
Set 7
Hal Kemp 
When Summer is Gone (theme) + Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?
Hal Kemp Orchestra (voc) Skinnay Ennis
‘Lavena Program’ Radio Transcription New York City 1934
There’s a Small Hotel
Hal Kemp Orchestra (voc) Maxine Gray
‘Lady Esther Serenade’ WEAF NBC Red NY 26 Aug 1936
Penny Serenade
Hal Kemp Orchestra (voc) Audience
Aircheck 1938
42nd Street + When Summer is Gone (theme)
Hal Kemp Orchestra
‘Lavena Program’ Radio Transcription New York City 1934
Set 8
Charlie Parker 
S.K. Blues
Joe Turner
AFRS Hollywood Oct 1945
Empty Head Blues
Ivie Anderson
AFRS Hollywood Oct 1945
Love My Baby
Joe Turner
AFRS Hollywood Oct 1945
Improvised Blues
Johnny Otis and ‘Jubilee’ All-Stars Orchestras
AFRS Hollywood Oct 1945

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