The Constitution of a Jazzman

Max Roach, at 83, left us on August 16, but his liberating presence lives on in his music

Max had what Oscar Peterson calls the "will to perfection" in continuing to find out through his music who he was. Oscar says that will is a prevailing force among jazz musicians, explaining that "it requires you to collect all your senses, emotions, physical strength, and mental power, and focus them entirely onto the performance, with utter dedication, every time you play.

"And if that is scary, it is also uniquely exciting . . . you never get rid of it. Nor do you want to, for you come to believe that if you get it all right, you will be capable of virtually anything."

But Max also knew, as did Coleman Hawkins, that it's essentially the striving that keeps musicians and the rest of us going. During one of Hawkins's best solos in the Freedom Now Suite, there was a squeak. "Don't splice that!" Hawkins told me. "When it's all perfect in a piece like this, there's something very wrong."

Max Roach performing in Coutances, France in May 1999.
Mephisto/Dalle/ Retna
Max Roach performing in Coutances, France in May 1999.

What Max had created was in real, raw time—for all time.

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