by Luke Stewart
Years in the making, the vast and illuminating Max Roach collection was finally unveiled on January 27 at the Library of Congress. The approximately 100,000-item archive gathers many of the famed drummer’s correspondences with musicians, poets, political luminaries and other personal friends; photos; music scores; and recordings, representing every period of Roach’s nearly 60-year career. And it includes the manuscript to an autobiography that he co-wrote with the late Amiri Baraka, but eventually abandoned.
At the event, Larry Appelbaum, the library’s chief jazz archivist, mentioned in his remarks that one of the most revealing aspects of this collection is Roach’s contracts. For the first time, the public can see and analyze the interaction between a widely noted and well-respected musician and the mid-century music industry. “Never before have we been able to see in such a vast collection the place where the musician meets the business,” Appelbaum said.
Roach is widely considered to be one of the most influential musicians in jazz. He joined the New York City scene in the early 1940s, just as bebop was being born, and his fierce, cross-hatched swing feel helped give the music its identity. He would go on to become a famed bandleader (first with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet, then with a variety of bands, including his all-percussion ensemble M’Boom), as well as an important Civil Rights and Black Power activist and advocate for the rights of jazz musicians. The library’s collection sheds light on all these sides of his persona. Continue reading