Saturday, January 25, 2014

Max Roach 1924-2007: Innovative Drummer, Percussionist, and Composer and the Revolutionary Legacy of Modern Jazz

The family of the jazz drummer Max Roach is donating his papers to the Library of Congress, enabling scholars to gain insights into his relationships, club dates, recordings and political passions.

(b. January 10, 1924--d. August 16, 2007)®ion%3DFooter&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=Blogs


Revelatory Archive of a Giant of Jazz
Library of Congress Acquires Max Roach’s Papers

Critic’s Notebook
January 24, 2014
New York Times

WASHINGTON — Max Roach, the great drummer and bandleader and paradigm-shifter of jazz, though he disliked that word, never finished an autobiography.

That’s a shame. He died in 2007 at 83, and his career spans the beginning of bebop, the intersection of jazz with the civil rights movement, free improvisation, and jazz’s current state of cross-disciplinary experiments and multimedia performances. Inasmuch as jazz is about change and resistance, he embodied those qualities: He fought anything that would contain or reduce him as an artist and a human being. He would have been well served by his own narrative, set in one voice.

But Roach was archivally minded, and, when he died, he left 400 linear feet of his life and actions to be read: scores and lead sheets, photographs, contracts, itineraries, correspondence, reel tapes and cassettes and drafts of an unfinished autobiography, written with the help of Amiri Baraka. On Monday, the Library of Congress will announce that it has acquired the archive from Mr. Roach’s family and that it will be made available to researchers.

“What I think he would hope people would see,” said the violist Maxine Roach, his daughter from his first marriage, “is that there was a lot about his life that was difficult, you know? The struggles. A lot about economics, and jazz as a word that we didn’t define ourselves.” (Roach felt that it was a pejorative term; he preferred to call it African-American music.)

“But aside from all of that,” she continued, “I hope that people see his excellence and his mastery of his skill, which helped him rise in this country that’s been so hard on black men especially, and how he went through it and what price he paid.”

I went through some of the archive last week in advance of its public unveiling — only a little, but enough to know that it contains the material for understanding how Roach saw himself and how those close to him saw him. We don’t have all the answers yet, but perhaps we can start asking the question, what needs to be better understood about Max Roach?

How he constructed his style, which brought together the wholeness of the drum kit rather than any specific part of it, let you hear tuning and touch, and expanded the notion of the drum solo as a truly narrative art might be the hardest one to address. (Perhaps the Roach-Baraka manuscript will help.)

What might be more easily understood is the nature of his friendships and correspondences with figures including Maya Angelou and Nina Simone, and his passions and causes, from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to the obscure Philadelphia pianist Hassan Ibn Ali, with whom he made a fascinating record for Atlantic in 1964. (There’s an hourlong tape in the collection of Ali playing solo piano in Roach’s apartment, some of which I heard, and several letters from him.) There is also a one-sentence telegram that Roach sent to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller after the Attica uprising in 1971: “Does your belief that prisoners are not human justify the loss of 42 lives?”

There is even some material — a radio jingle, an advertisement mock-up — on Afro Kola, a short-lived soft drink in which Roach was an investor; his son, the actor Daryl Roach, who worked for the company in the summer of 1968, recalled that it was quickly bought by Coca-Cola and then vanished.

Roach was a natural figurehead: He had an instinct to lead, to politicize, to ask uncomfortable questions of politicians and club owners and journalists; to run an independent record label pretty much before musicians did that kind of thing (Debut, owned and operated with Charles Mingus from 1952 to 1957); and to collaborate with playwrights and visual artists.

He stressed that jazz functioned within a larger picture of African-American expression and a history of survival. “Beyond his music,” Daryl Roach said, “I think Dad grew to understand that things don’t happen in a vacuum — they happen out of a sociopolitical and economic context.”

He had his own economic context, of course, and the collection contains plenty of documents of business transactions related to club dates and recordings; there are contracts and papers from his time with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet in the mid-1950s, for example. Brown died in a car accident in 1956; the archives tell you, among other things, what the ensemble was being paid in the months leading up to the end, when they might have been the greatest jazz group in America: $500 for two nights at Basin Street, in the East 40s in Manhattan, that year; $900 for six days at the Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village; $203 for Roach, and $150.76 for each sideman, for one night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Such details might seem inconsequential, but they’re important: They help us reconstruct exactly when and where the group played and how its work was valued.

There are fascinating letters from Mingus to Roach after the dissolution of Debut Records: This was a close and complicated relationship. In one written in February 1961, Mingus commends Roach for his wariness of the British-born jazz patroness Nica de Koenigswarter; emotionally and incredulously, he reports of her stated disdain for Patrice Lumumba, the leader of the Congolese independence movement, who had been recently killed.

Another letter dated three days later angrily asks Roach for $1,230 owed him. He compares him to Miles Davis, summing them up the same way: “dress right, pose right, and appear cold.” Above his signature, he wrote “Hate.” Three months later, Roach interrupted a Davis concert at Carnegie Hall, a benefit for the African Research Foundation, whose politics he questioned; he picketed outside and eventually climbed onstage with a sign reading “Africa for the Africans.” The collection contains photos of all that, too.

Admiration, invective, scrutiny — the sense you get is of a man determined enough to take it all.

A version of this article appears in print on January 25, 2014, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Revelatory Archive of a Giant of Jazz. 
Maxwell Lemuel Roach (January 10, 1924 – August 16, 2007) is generally considered one of the most important drummers in history.[citation needed] He worked with many of the greatest jazz musicians, including Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown.

Roach also led his own groups, and made numerous musical statements relating to the civil rights movement of African-Americans.

As a young man, Mr. Roach, a percussion virtuoso capable of playing at the most brutal tempos with subtlety as well as power, was among a small circle of adventurous musicians who brought about wholesale changes in jazz. He remained adventurous to the end.

Over the years he challenged both his audiences and himself by working not just with standard jazz instrumentation, and not just in traditional jazz venues, but in a wide variety of contexts, some of them well beyond the confines of jazz as that word is generally understood.

He led a “double quartet” consisting of his working group of trumpet, saxophone, bass and drums plus a string quartet. He led an ensemble consisting entirely of percussionists. He dueted with uncompromising avant-gardists like the pianist Cecil Taylor and the saxophonist Anthony Braxton. He performed unaccompanied. He wrote music for plays by Sam Shepard and dance pieces by Alvin Ailey. He collaborated with video artists, gospel choirs and hip-hop performers.

Mr. Roach explained his philosophy to The New York Times in 1990: “You can’t write the same book twice. Though I’ve been in historic musical situations, I can’t go back and do that again. And though I run into artistic crises, they keep my life interesting.”

He found himself in historic situations from the beginning of his career. He was still in his teens when he played drums with the alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, a pioneer of modern jazz, at a Harlem after-hours club in 1942. Within a few years, Mr. Roach was himself recognized as a pioneer in the development of the sophisticated new form of jazz that came to be known as bebop.

He was not the first drummer to play bebop — Kenny Clarke, 10 years his senior, is generally credited with that distinction — but he quickly established himself as both the most imaginative percussionist in modern jazz and the most influential.

In Mr. Roach’s hands, the drum kit became much more than a means of keeping time. He saw himself as a full-fledged member of the front line, not simply as a supporting player.

Layering rhythms on top of rhythms, he paid as much attention to a song’s melody as to its beat. He developed, as the jazz critic Burt Korall put it, “a highly responsive, contrapuntal style,” engaging his fellow musicians in an open-ended conversation while maintaining a rock-solid pulse. His approach “initially mystified and thoroughly challenged other drummers,” Mr. Korall wrote, but quickly earned the respect of his peers and established a new standard for the instrument.

Mr. Roach was an innovator in other ways. In the late 1950s, he led a group that was among the first in jazz to regularly perform pieces in waltz time and other unusual meters in addition to the conventional 4/4. In the early 1960s, he was among the first to use jazz to address racial and political issues, with works like the album-length “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.”

In 1972, he became one of the first jazz musicians to teach full time at the college level when he was hired as a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. And in 1988, he became the first jazz musician to receive a so-called genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

Maxwell Roach was born on Jan. 10, 1924, in the small town of New Land, N.C., and grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. He began studying piano at a neighborhood Baptist church when he was 8 and took up the drums a few years later.

Even before he graduated from Boys High School in 1942, savvy New York jazz musicians knew his name. As a teenager he worked briefly with Duke Ellington’s orchestra at the Paramount Theater and with Charlie Parker at Monroe’s Uptown House in Harlem, where he took part in jam sessions that helped lay the groundwork for bebop.

By the middle 1940’s, he had become a ubiquitous presence on the New York jazz scene, working in the 52nd Street nightclubs with Parker, the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and other leading modernists. Within a few years he had become equally ubiquitous on record, participating in such seminal recordings as Miles Davis’s “Birth of the Cool” sessions in 1949 and 1950.

He also found time to study composition at the Manhattan School of Music. He had planned to major in percussion, he later recalled in an interview, but changed his mind after a teacher told him his technique was incorrect. “The way he wanted me to play would have been fine if I’d been after a career in a symphony orchestra,” he said, “but it wouldn’t have worked on 52nd Street.”

Mr. Roach made the transition from sideman to leader in 1954, when he and the young trumpet virtuoso Clifford Brown formed a quintet. That group, which specialized in a muscular and stripped-down version of bebop that came to be called hard bop, took the jazz world by storm. But it was short-lived.

In June 1956, at the height of the Brown-Roach quintet’s success, Brown was killed in an automobile accident, along with Richie Powell, the group’s pianist, and Powell’s wife. The sudden loss of his friend and co-leader, Mr. Roach later recalled, plunged him into depression and heavy drinking from which it took him years to emerge.

Nonetheless, he kept working. He honored his existing nightclub bookings with the two surviving members of his group, the saxophonist Sonny Rollins and the bassist George Morrow, before briefly taking time off and putting together a new quartet. By the end of the 50’s, seemingly recovered from his depression, he was recording prolifically, mostly as a leader but occasionally as a sideman with Mr. Rollins and others.

The personnel of Mr. Roach’s working group changed frequently over the next decade, but the level of artistry and innovation remained high. His sidemen included such important musicians as the saxophonists Eric Dolphy, Stanley Turrentine and George Coleman and the trumpet players Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham and Booker Little. Few of his groups had a pianist, making for a distinctively open ensemble sound in which Mr. Roach’s drums were prominent.

Always among the most politically active of jazz musicians, Mr. Roach had helped the bassist Charles Mingus establish one of the first musician-run record companies, Debut, in 1952. Eight years later, the two organized a so-called rebel festival in Newport, R.I., to protest the Newport Jazz Festival’s treatment of performers. That same year, Mr. Roach collaborated with the lyricist Oscar Brown Jr. on “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,” which played variations on the theme of black people’s struggle for equality in the United States and Africa.

The album, which featured vocals by Abbey Lincoln (Mr. Roach’s frequent collaborator and, from 1962 to 1970, his wife), received mixed reviews: many critics praised its ambition, but some attacked it as overly polemical. Mr. Roach was undeterred.

“I will never again play anything that does not have social significance,” he told Down Beat magazine after the album’s release. “We American jazz musicians of African descent have proved beyond all doubt that we’re master musicians of our instruments. Now what we have to do is employ our skill to tell the dramatic story of our people and what we’ve been through.”

“We Insist!” was not a commercial success, but it emboldened Mr. Roach to broaden his scope as a composer. Soon he was collaborating with choreographers, filmmakers and Off Broadway playwrights on projects, including a stage version of “We Insist!”

As his range of activities expanded, his career as a bandleader became less of a priority. At the same time, the market for his uncompromising brand of small-group jazz began to diminish. By the time he joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts in 1972, teaching had come to seem an increasingly attractive alternative to the demands of the musician’s life.

Joining the academy did not mean turning his back entirely on performing. In the early ‘70s, Mr. Roach joined with seven fellow drummers to form M’Boom, an ensemble that achieved tonal and coloristic variety through the use of xylophones, chimes, steel drums and other percussion instruments. Later in the decade he formed a new quartet, two of whose members — the saxophonist Odean Pope and the trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater — would perform and record with him off and on for more than two decades.

He also participated in a number of unusual experiments. He appeared in concert in 1983 with a rapper, two disc jockeys and a team of break dancers. A year later, he composed music for an Off Broadway production of three Sam Shepard plays, for which he won an Obie Award. In 1985, he took part in a multimedia collaboration with the video artist Kit Fitzgerald and the stage director George Ferencz.

Perhaps his most ambitious experiment in those years was the Max Roach Double Quartet, a combination of his quartet and the Uptown String Quartet. Jazz musicians had performed with string accompaniment before, but rarely if ever in a setting like this, where the string players were an equal part of the ensemble and were given the opportunity to improvise. Reviewing a Double Quartet album in The Times in 1985, Robert Palmer wrote, “For the first time in the history of jazz recording, strings swing as persuasively as any saxophonist or drummer.”

This endeavor had personal as well as musical significance for Mr. Roach: the Uptown String Quartet’s founder and viola player was his daughter Maxine. She survives him, as do two other daughters, Ayo and Dara, and two sons, Raoul and Darryl.

By the early ‘90s, Mr. Roach had reduced his teaching load and was again based in New York year-round, traveling to Amherst only for two residencies and a summer program each year. He was still touring with his quartet as recently as 2000, and he also remained active as a composer. In 2002 he wrote and performed the music for “How to Draw a Bunny,” a documentary about the artist Ray Johnson.



Jazz At Massey Hall (1953):

Jazz at Massey Hall is a live jazz album featuring a performance by "the Quintet" given on 15 May 1953 at Massey Hall in Toronto. The quintet was composed of several leading 'modern' players of the day: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach. It was the only time that the five men recorded together as a unit, and it was the last recorded meeting of Parker and Gillespie.

Max Roach--"Drums Unlimited" (1966)

MAX ROACH, drums

This classic set was Max Roach's only recording as a leader during 1963-67. Three of the six numbers ("Nommo," "St. Louis Blues" and "In the Red") find Roach heading a group that includes trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, altoist James Spaulding, pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Jymie Merritt and, on "St. Louis Blues," Roland Alexander on soprano. Their music is essentially advanced hard-bop with a generous amount of space taken up by Roach's drum solos. The other three selections ("The Drum Also Waltzes," "Drums Unlimited" and "For Big Sid") are unaccompanied features for Max Roach and because of the melodic and logically-planned nature of his improvisations, they continually hold on to one's attention.

Max Roach Quintet with Abbey Lincoln - "Freedom Day" [1964]:

Max Roach Quintet with Abbey Lincoln--"Driva Man" (1964):
"Freedom Now Suite" Belgian TV BTR2 1964 (Probably January)

Abbey Lincoln - Vocals
Clifford Jordan - Tenor Saxophone
Coleridge Perkinson - Piano
Eddie Khan - Bass
Max Roach - Drums

Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet (1955):

Max Roach - Jazz in 3/4 Time (1957)-- full album:

1-Blues Waltz 00:00
2-Valse Hot 06:32
3-I'll Take Romance 20:57
4-Little Folks 25:26
5-Lover 31:08
6-The Most Beautiful Girl In The World 36:46

Personnel: Max Roach (drums); Sonny Rollins (tenor saxophone); Kenny Dorham (trumpet); Ray Bryant(piano on 6), Billy Wallace (piano); George Morrow (bass instrument)

The idea of jazz in 3/4 time was not a new one when Max Roach recorded these tracks in 1956 and 1957, but this was the first jazz album entirely devoted to that unusual time signature. At the helm of a first-rate quintet including Sonny Rollins and Kenny Dorham, Roach proves conclusively that waltzes can swing.

Max Roach and Anthony Braxton--"Birth & Rebirth--Black Saint Records (Italy, 1978):
"The music in this album is a result of our belief in a continuum that links the present with the past. Our spontaneous improvisations are true to those well defined principles basic to African American culture. Thank you for listening."
--Max Roach & Anthony Braxton - Birth And Rebirth (1978):

Max Roach & Archie Shepp: The Long March (Hathut Records, 1979): "Ujamaa":

Max Roach + Four - "Ezz-Thetic"

From "Max Roach + Four" (Emarcy 1957)

Max Roach: drums
Sonny Rollins: tenor saxophone
Ray Bryant: piano
Billy Wallace: piano
George Morrow: bass

Saxophone Colossus - Sonny Rollins (1956) [FULL ALBUM]

Max Roach: Drums
Sonny Rollins: Tenor Saxophone
George Morrow: Bass
Tommy Flanagan: Piano

Max Roach, Three Deuces, NYC, ca. October 1947 Photography by William P. Gottlieb.

Max Roach
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Background information

Birth name    Maxwell Lemuel Roach
Born    January 10, 1924
Newland, North Carolina, United States
Died    August 16, 2007 (aged 83)
Manhattan, New York, United States
Genres    Jazz, bebop, hard bop
Occupations    Drummer, percussion, composer, educator, civil rights activist
Instruments    Drums, percussion
Years active    1944–2002
Labels    Capital, Impulse!
Associated acts    M'Boom, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Eric Dolphy, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Booker Little, Clifford Brown, Sonny Stitt, Billy Eckstine, Bud Powell, Stan Getz.

Maxwell Lemuel "Max" Roach (January 10, 1924 – August 16, 2007) was an American jazz percussionist, drummer, and composer.

A pioneer of bebop, Roach went on to work in many other styles of music, and is generally considered alongside the most important drummers in history.[1][2] He worked with many famous jazz musicians, including Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Billy Eckstine, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, Eric Dolphy and Booker Little.
Roach also led his own groups, and made numerous musical statements relating to the African American civil rights movement.


1 Biography
1.1 Early life and career
1.2 1950s
1.3 1960s-1970s
1.4 1980s-1990s
1.5 Death
2 Personal life
3 Honors
4 Discography
4.1 As leader
4.2 As co-leader
4.3 As sideman
5 References
6 External links

Early life and career

Roach was born in the Township of Newland, Pasquotank County, North Carolina, which borders the southern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp, to Alphonse and Cressie Roach. Many confuse this with Newland Town in Avery County. Although Roach's birth certificate lists his date of birth as January 10, 1924,[3] Roach has been quoted by Phil Schaap as having stated that his family believed he was born on January 8, 1925. Roach's family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York when he was 4 years old. He grew up in a musical home, his mother being a gospel singer. He started to play bugle in parade orchestras at a young age. At the age of 10, he was already playing drums in some gospel bands. In 1942, as an eighteen-year-old fresh out of Boys High School, he was called to fill in for Sonny Greer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra when they were performing at the Paramount Theater.

In 1942, Roach started to go out in the jazz clubs of the 52nd Street and at 78th Street & Broadway for Georgie Jay's Taproom (playing with schoolmate Cecil Payne).[4] His first professional recording took place in December 1943, supporting Coleman Hawkins.[5]

Roach's most significant innovations came in the 1940s, when he and jazz drummer 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. The new approach also left space for the drummer to insert dramatic accents on the snare drum, "crash" 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 his instrument. 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.[1] The idea was to shatter musical conventions and take full advantage of the drummer's unique position. "In no other society", Roach once observed, "do they have one person play with all four limbs."[6]

While that approach is common today, when Clarke and Roach introduced the new style in the 1940s it was a revolutionary musical advance. "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 awed 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."[1]
He was one of the first drummers (along with Kenny Clarke) to play in the bebop style, and performed in bands led by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, and Miles Davis. Roach played on many of Parker's most important records, including the Savoy November 1945 session, a turning point in recorded jazz.


Roach studied classical percussion at the Manhattan School of Music from 1950–53, working toward a Bachelor of Music degree (the School was to award him an Honorary Doctorate in 1990).

In 1952, Roach co-founded Debut Records with bassist Charles Mingus. This label released a record of a May 15, 1953 concert, billed as 'the greatest concert ever', which came to be known as Jazz at Massey Hall, featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Mingus and Roach. Also released on this label was the groundbreaking bass-and-drum free improvisation, Percussion Discussion.[7]
In 1954, he 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, though Land left the following year and Sonny Rollins soon replaced him. The group was a prime example of the hard bop style also played by Art Blakey and Horace Silver. This group was to be short-lived; Brown and Powell were killed in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in June 1956. The first album Roach recorded after their deaths was Max Roach + 4. After Brown and Powell's deaths, Roach continued leading a similarly configured group, with Kenny Dorham (and later the short-lived Booker Little) on trumpet, George Coleman on tenor and pianist Ray Bryant. Roach expanded the standard form of hard-bop using 3/4 waltz rhythms and modality in 1957 with his album Jazz in 3/4 time. During this period, Roach recorded a series of other albums for the EmArcy label featuring the brothers Stanley and Tommy Turrentine.[8]

In 1955, he was the drummer for vocalist Dinah Washington at several live appearances and recordings. Appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival with her in 1958 which was filmed and 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.[9]


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 very finest trio albums ever made.[10]

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, rhythmically cohesive phrases. He described his approach to music as "the creation of organized sound."[11]
During the 1970s, Roach formed a musical organization—"M'Boom"—a percussion orchestra. Each member of this unit composed for it and performed on many percussion instruments. Personnel included Fred King, Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Freddie Waits, Roy Brooks, Omar Clay, Ray Mantilla, Francisco Mora, and Eli Fountain.[11]


In the early 1980s, he began presenting entire concerts solo, proving that this multi-percussion instrument could fulfill the demands of solo performance and be entirely satisfying to an audience. He created memorable compositions in these solo concerts; a solo record was released by Baystate, a Japanese label. One of these solo concerts is available on video, which also includes a filming of a recording date for "Chattahoochee Red," featuring his working quartet, Odean Pope, Cecil Bridgewater and Calvin Hill.

He embarked on a series of duet recordings. Departing from the style of presentation he was best known for, most of the music on these recordings is free improvisation, created with the avant-garde musicians Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, and Abdullah Ibrahim. He created duets with other performers: a recorded duet with the oration by Martin Luther King, "I Have a Dream"; a duet with video artist Kit Fitzgerald, who improvised video imagery while Roach spontaneously created the music; a classic duet with his lifelong friend and associate Dizzy Gillespie; a duet concert recording with Mal Waldron.

He wrote music for theater, such as plays written by Sam Shepard, presented at La Mama E.T.C. in New York City.
He found new contexts for presentation, creating unique musical ensembles. One of these groups was "The Double Quartet." It featured his regular performing quartet, with personnel as above, except Tyrone Brown replacing Hill; this quartet joined with "The Uptown String Quartet," led by his daughter Maxine Roach, featuring Diane Monroe, Lesa Terry and Eileen Folson.

Another ensemble was the "So What Brass Quintet," a group comprising five brass instrumentalists and Roach, no chordal instrument, no bass player. Much of the performance consisted of drums and horn duets. The ensemble consisted of two trumpets, trombone, French horn and tuba. Musicians included Cecil Bridgewater, Frank Gordon, Eddie Henderson, Rod McGaha, Steve Turre, Delfeayo Marsalis, Robert Stewart, Tony Underwood, Marshall Sealy, Mark Taylor and Dennis Jeter.
Roach presented his music with orchestras and gospel choruses. 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. Roach performed with dancers: the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Dianne McIntyre Dance Company, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

Roach surprised his fans by performing in a hip hop concert, featuring the artist-rapper Fab Five Freddy and the New York Break Dancers. He expressed the insight that there was a strong kinship between the outpouring of expression of these young black artists and the art he had pursued all his life.[12]

Not content to expand on the musical territory he had already become known for, Roach spent the decades of the 1980s and 1990s continually finding new forms of musical expression and presentation. Though he ventured into new territory during a lifetime of innovation, he kept his contact with his musical point of origin. He performed with the Beijing Trio, with pianist Jon Jang and erhu player Jeibing Chen. His last recording, Friendship, was with trumpet master Clark Terry, the two long-standing friends in duet and quartet. His last performance was at the 50th anniversary celebration of the original Massey Hall concert, in Toronto, where he performed solo on the hi-hat.[13]
In 1994, Roach also appeared on Rush drummer Neil Peart's Burning For Buddy performing "The Drum Also Waltzes", Part 1 and 2 on Volume 1 of the Volume 2 series during the 1994 All-Star recording sessions.[14]


Max Roach died in the early morning on August 16, 2007 in Manhattan.[15] He was survived by five children: sons Daryl and Raoul, and daughters Maxine, Ayo and Dara.

Over 1,900 people attended his funeral at Riverside Church in Manhattan, New York City on August 24, 2007. Max Roach was interred at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY.
In a funeral tribute to Roach, then-Lieutenant Governor of New York David Paterson compared the musician's courage to that of Paul Robeson, Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X, saying that "No one ever wrote a bad thing about Max Roach's music or his aura until 1960, when he and Charlie Mingus protested the practices of the Newport Jazz Festival."[16]

Personal life

Two children, son Daryl Keith and daughter Maxine, were born from his first marriage with Mildred Roach. In 1958 he met singer Barbara Jai (Johnson) and fathered another son, Raoul Jordu. He continued to play as a freelance while studying composition at the Manhattan School of Music. He graduated in 1952. During the period 1962–1970, Roach was married to the singer Abbey Lincoln, who had performed on several of Roach's albums. Twin daughters, Ayodele Nieyela and Dara Rashida, were later born to Roach and his third wife, Janus Adams Roach. He has four grandchildren: Kyle Maxwell Roach, Kadar Elijah Roach, Maxe Samiko Hinds, and Skye Sophia Sheffield. Long involved in jazz education, in 1972 he was recruited to the faculty of the University of Massachusetts Amherst by Chancellor Randolph Bromery.[17] In the early 2000s, Roach became less active from the onset of hydrocephalus-related complications.

From the 1970s through the mid-1990s Roach taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.[18]


He was given a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 1988, cited as a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France (1989),[19] twice awarded the French Grand Prix du Disque, elected to the International Percussive Art Society's Hall of Fame and the Downbeat Magazine Hall of Fame, awarded Harvard Jazz Master, celebrated by Aaron Davis Hall, given eight honorary doctorate degrees, including degrees awarded by Medgar Evers College, CUNY, the University of Bologna, Italy and Columbia University.[20] While spending the later years of his life at the Mill Basin Sunrise assisted living home, in Brooklyn, Max was honored with a proclamation honoring his musical achievements by Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz.[21]

In 1986 the London borough of Lambeth named a park in Brixton after him.[22][23] - Roach was able to officially open it when he visited the UK that year.
Roach was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.[24]


As leader

1953 : Max Roach Quartet (Fantasy)
1953 : Max Roach and his Sextet (Debut)
1953 : Max Roach Quartet featuring Hank Mobley (Debut)
1956 : Max Roach + 4 (EmArcy)
1957 : Jazz in ¾ Time (EmArcy)
1957 : The Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker (EmArcy)
1958 : MAX (Argo)
1958 : Max Roach + 4 on the Chicago Scene (Mercury)
1958 : Max Roach/Art Blakey (with Art Blakey)
1958 : Max Roach + 4 at Newport (EmArcy)
1958 : Max Roach with the Boston Percussion Ensemble (EmArcy)
1958 : Deeds, Not Words (Riverside) - also released as Conversation
1958 : Award-Winning Drummer (Time) - also released as Max Roach
1958 : Max Roach/Bud Shank - Sessions (with Bud Shank)
1958 : The Defiant Ones - with Booker Little
1959 : The Many Sides of Max (Mercury)
1959 : Rich Versus Roach (Mercury) - with Buddy Rich
1959 : Quiet as It's Kept (Mercury)
1959 : Moon Faced and Starry Eyed (Mercury) - with Abbey Lincoln
1960 : Long as You're Living (Enja) - released 1984
1960 : Parisian Sketches (Mercury)
1960 : We Insist! (Candid)
1961 : Percussion Bitter Sweet (Impulse!) - with Mal Waldron
1962 : It's Time (Impulse!) - with Mal Waldron
1962 : Speak, Brother, Speak! (Fantasy)
1964 : The Max Roach Trio featuring the Legendary Hasaan (Atlantic) - with Hasaan Ibn Ali
1966 : Drums Unlimited (Atlantic)
1968 : Members, Don't Git Weary (Atlantic)
1971 : Lift Every Voice and Sing (Atlantic) - with the J.C. White Singers
1976 : Force: Sweet Mao-Suid Afrika '76 (duo with Archie Shepp)
1976 : Nommo (Victor)
1977 : Max Roach Quartet Live in Tokyo (Denon)
1977 : The Loudstar (Horo)
1977 : Max Roach Quartet Live In Amsterdam - It's Time (Baystate)
1977 : Solos (Baystate)
1977 : Streams of Consciousness (Baystate) - duo with Dollar Brand
1978 : Confirmation (Fluid Records)
1978 : Birth and Rebirth - duo with Anthony Braxton (Black Saint)
1979 : The Long March - duo with Archie Shepp (Hathut)
1979 : Historic Concerts - duo with Cecil Taylor (Black Saint)
1979 : One in Two - Two in One - duo with Anthony Braxton (Hathut)
1979 : Pictures in a Frame (Soul Note)
1980 : Chattahoochee Red (Columbia)
1982 : Swish - duo with Connie Crothers (New Artists)
1982 : In the Light (Soul Note)
1983 : Live at Vielharmonie (Soul Note)
1984 : Scott Free (Soul Note)
1984 : It's Christmas Again (Soul Note)
1984 : Survivors (Soul Note)
1985 : Easy Winners (Soul Note)
1986 : Bright Moments (Soul Note)
1989 : Max + Dizzy: Paris 1989 - duo with Dizzy Gillespie (A&M)
1989 : Homage to Charlie Parker (A&M)
1991 : To the Max! (Enja)
1995 : Max Roach With The New Orchestra Of Boston And The So What Brass Quintet (Blue Note)
1999 : Beijing Trio (Asian Improv)
2002 : Friendship - (with Clark Terry) (Columbia)
As co-leader[edit]
With Clifford Brown
1954: Best Coast Jazz (Emarcy)
1954: Clifford Brown All Stars (Emarcy, [released 1956])
1954: Jam Session (EmArcy, 1954) - with Maynard Ferguson and Clark Terry
1954 : Brown and Roach Incorporated (EmArcy)
1954 : Daahoud (Mainstream) - released 1973
1955 : Clifford Brown with Strings (EmArcy)
1954-55 : Clifford Brown and Max Roach (EmArcy)
1955 : Study in Brown (EmArcy)
1954 : More Study in Brown
1956 : Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street (EmArcy)
1979 : Live at the Bee Hive (Columbia Records)
With M'Boom
1973 : Re: Percussion (Strata-East Records)
1979 : M'Boom (Columbia)
1984 : Collage (Soul Note)
1992 : Live at S.O.B.'s New York (Blue Moon Records)

As sideman

With Chet Baker
Witch Doctor (Contemporary, 1953 [1985])
With Don Byas
Savoy Jam Party (1946)
With Sonny Clark
Sonny Clark Trio (Blue Note, 1957)
With Jimmy Cleveland
Introducing Jimmy Cleveland and His All Stars (EmArcy, 1955)
With Al Cohn
Cohn's Tones (1953)
With Miles Davis
Birth of the Cool (Capitol, 1949)
Conception (Prestige, 1951)
With John Dennis
New Piano Expressions (1955)
With Kenny Dorham
Jazz Contrasts (Riverside, 1957)
With Billy Eckstine
The Metronome All Stars (1953)
With Duke Ellington
Paris Blues (United Artists, 1961)
Money Jungle (United Artists, 1962) - with Charles Mingus
With Maynard Ferguson
Jam Session featuring Maynard Ferguson (EmArcy, 1954)
With Dizzy Gillespie
Diz and Getz (Verve, 1953) - with Stan Getz
The Bop Session (Sonet, 1975) - with Sonny Stitt, John Lewis, Hank Jones and Percy Heath
With Stan Getz
Opus BeBop (1946)
With Benny Golson
The Modern Touch (Riverside, 1957)
With Johnny Griffin
Introducing Johnny Griffin (Blue Note, 1956)
With Slide Hampton
Drum Suite (1962)
With Coleman Hawkins
Rainbow Mist (1944)
Coleman Hawkins and His All Stars (1944)
Body and Soul (1946)
With Joe Holiday
Mambo Jazz (1953)
With J.J. Johnson
Mad Be Bop (1946)
First Place (1957)
With Thad Jones
The Magnificent Thad Jones (Blue Note, 1956)
With Abbey Lincoln
That's Him! (Riverside, 1957)
Straight Ahead (Riverside, 1961)
With Booker Little
Out Front (Candid, 1961)
With Howard McGhee
The McGhee-Navarro Sextet (1950)
With Gil Melle
New Faces, New Sounds (Blue Note, 1952)
With Charles Mingus
The Charles Mingus Quintet & Max Roach (Debut, 1955)
With Thelonious Monk
The Complete Genius (Blue Note, 1952)
Brilliant Corners (Riverside, 1956)
With Herbie Nichols
Herbie Nichols Trio (Blue Note, 1955)
With Charlie Parker
Town Hall, New York, June 22, 1945 (1945) - with Dizzy Gillespie
The Complete Savoy Studio Recordings (1945–48)
Lullaby in Rhythm (1947)
Charlie Parker on Dial (Dial, 1947)
The Band that Never Was (1948)
Bird on 52nd Street (1948)
Bird at the Roost (1948)
Charlie Parker – Complete Sessions on Verve (Verve, 1949–53)
Charlie Parker in France (1949)
Live at Rockland Palace (1952)
Yardbird: DC-53 (1953)
With Bud Powell
The Bud Powell Trip (1947)
The Amazing Bud Powell (Blue Note, 1951)
With Sonny Rollins
Work Time (Prestige, 1955)
Sonny Rollins Plus 4 (Prestige, 1956)
Tour de Force (Prestige, 1956)
Rollins Plays for Bird (Prestige, 1956)
Saxophone Colossus (Prestige, 1956)
Freedom Suite (Riverside, 1958)
Stuttgart 1963 Concert (1963)
With Hazel Scott
Relaxed Piano Moods (1955)
With Sonny Stitt
Sonny Stitt/Bud Powell/J. J. Johnson (Prestige, 1956)
With Stanley Turrentine
Stan 'The Man' Turrentine (1960)
With Tommy Turrentine
Tommy Turrentine (1960)
With George Wallington
The George Wallington Trip and Septet (1951)
With Dinah Washington
Dinah Jams (EmArcy, 1954)
With Randy Weston
Uhuru Afrika (Roulette, 1960)
With Joe Wilder
The Music of George Gershwin: I Sing of Thee (1956)

^ Jump up to: a b c Schudel, Matt (August 16, 2007). "Jazz Musician Max Roach Dies at 83". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
Jump up ^ "Legendary Jazz Drummer Max Roach Dies At 83". 1924-01-10. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
Jump up ^ MADISON magazine: Max Roach and James Woods[dead link]
Jump up ^ Roach's account of Georgie Jay's Taproom, excerpted from Swing to Bop: An Oral History of the Transition in Jazz in the 1940s, page 77. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
Jump up ^ "Max Roach Discography".
Jump up ^ The Week August 31, 2007 page 32.
Jump up ^ " "History Explorer > Jazz History Timeline > 1952 - 1961"". Retrieved 2011-03-21.[dead link]
Jump up ^ " "History of Jazz Part 6: Hard Bop"". 2007-04-11. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
Jump up ^ " "Joy Spring"". Retrieved 2011-10-26.
Jump up ^ "Duke Ellington Money Jungle Blue Note, Recorded 1962"[dead link]
^ Jump up to: a b "Max Roach Biography". Retrieved 2008-04-23.
Jump up ^ " "Legendary Jazz Drummer Max Roach Dies At 83"". 1924-01-10. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
Jump up ^ "Friendship". 2003-07-25. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
Jump up ^ " "The Friday Papers"". 2007-08-27. Retrieved 2011-03-21.[dead link]
Jump up ^ Keepnews, Peter (August 16, 2007). "Max Roach, Master of Modern Jazz, Dies at 83". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-17. "Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules of drumming in the 1940s and spent the rest of his career breaking musical barriers and defying listeners’ expectations, died early yesterday in Manhattan. He was 83."
Jump up ^ Paterson, David (2008-03-13). "David Paterson Invokes Paul Robeson, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X in Remembrance of Jazz Legend Max Roach (Eulogy transcript)". Democracy Now. Retrieved 2008-03-18.
Jump up ^ University of Massachusetts, "Randolph W. Bromery, Champion of Diversity, Du Bois and Jazz as UMass Amherst Chancellor, Dead at 87", Feb. 27, 2013.
Jump up ^ Palpini, Kristin (17 August 2007). Jazz great, UMass prof Max Roach dies. United States: Amherst Bulletin
Jump up ^ Video: medals ceremony From Ina (French).
Jump up ^ "University to Award 8 Honorary Degrees at Graduation on May 16". Columbia University Record. April 9, 2001. Retrieved 2007-08-16.
Jump up ^ "Brooklyn Borough President". Retrieved 2011-03-21.
Jump up ^ "Max Roach Park". 2006-10-28. Retrieved 2011-03-21.
Jump up ^ "London Borough of Lambeth | Max Roach Park". Retrieved 2011-03-21.
Jump up ^ "2009 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
External links[edit]

Max Roach 1924-2007: Thousands Pay Tribute to the Legendary Jazz Drummer, Educator, Activist
Max Roach at the Hard Bop Homepage
Discography at Discogs
Discography and Sessionography
New York Times obituary
New York Sun Obituary
Obituary and Public Tributes
Slate Magazine Article
Max Roach Multimedia Directory

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Amiri Baraka, 1934-2014: The Modern Writer As Artist, Thinker, Activist, and Seer


Amiri Baraka was a cultural and political GIANT whose creative literary virtuosity greatly transformed and elevated our consciousness and thus enriched our lives via the prophetic and incisive command of language, knowledge and art on a monumental scale and with a profound social depth that is very rare, and thus all the more valuable. Because he possessed a strong and abiding LOVE for black people he was able and willing to share that deep sense of humanity and compassion with all the world. Go to any place within this society or on this planet generally and you will find that Baraka and his many great works are well known and deeply appreciated (not to mention highly USEFUL). As an artist, teacher, activist, and scholar Amiri was always inspiring and shall remain so for millenia to come. May his eternal GRIOT soul rest in peace.


(October 7, 1934--d. January 9, 2014)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Locus Solus:  The New York School of Poets

News, links, resources, and commentary on poets and artists of the New York School

Remembering Amiri Baraka (1934-2014) 

January 10, 2014     
by Andrew Epstein
Locus Solus

Yesterday, the sad news spread that Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) had passed away at the age of 79. There have already been a number of substantial obituaries and tributes, and surely there will be more to come in the coming days and weeks.

Like so many others, I’ve long been fascinated by Baraka’s groundbreaking and always-controversial work, his immense influence on multiple fields (from music criticism to hiphop to drama, from the New American poetry to the Black Arts movement), and his complicated and often polarizing writing, politics, and legacy.

In my first book, Beautiful Enemies (and elsewhere), I’ve argued that Baraka’s powerful, agonized early writing emerges out of, and exerts a profound influence on, the (largely white) postwar avant-garde, particularly as it existed in New York in the 1950s.  The early LeRoi Jones was not only deeply connected to the Beats, as one so often hears, but also to the poetry of the New York School — thanks in particular to his close friendship with Frank O’Hara in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  If you’re interested in hearing more about this, you can read one of the two Baraka chapters in my book here.  (I’ve also posted a bit about Baraka on this blog — for example, here, here, and here).

On a more personal note, I was also fortunate enough to meet Baraka a couple of times in person.  First, in 2000, at the “Poetry of the 1960s” conference held at the University of Maine (where he played a memorable and controversial role in the conference itself). Among other things, I remember a group of us standing rather star-struck around Baraka in a semi-circle one late night in Orono, listening to him telling funny stories over beers.

In 2003, I had another fortuitous encounter with Baraka when a student organization invited him to visit Florida State University, where I teach.  The student group hadn’t told the English Department about his reading, and I only learned about it a day or two before he arrived when a student asked me if I’d be willing to shuttle Baraka from the airport to his hotel and to the reading.  I jumped at the chance.  I met Baraka as he got off the plane at the tiny Tallahassee airport and drove him around town for a very memorable afternoon and evening.  As many others have said, in person, one on one, he was kind, gentle, down-to-earth and funny.  I told him about the book I was then completing on his work and his ties to Frank O’Hara and the New York School.  He lit up as he talked fondly about “Frank” and his early days in Greenwich Village.  We also talked about our shared Jersey roots, since I grew up in South Orange, one town over from his hometown of Newark.

When I dropped Baraka off at the hotel, I was a bit embarrassed, because the students who organized the visit had apparently put him up at a humble Best Western on a busy, unappealing highway, rather than at one of the more high-end hotels where we usually host visiting speakers.  But he didn’t seem to mind in the least.  I offered to take him to dinner, but he declined and said he just wanted to rest in the hotel before the reading.  When I came to pick him up a couple of hours later, I remember him saying, with pleasure, that he’d just walked over and gotten an egg salad sandwich for dinner from the chain deli next to the Best Western.

I drove Baraka to campus and delivered him to the huge auditorium on campus.  A few minutes later, I was struck by the transformation when he appeared on stage.  The quiet, friendly, low-key seventy-year old man I’d just spent a couple hours driving around was gone, and he suddenly seemed larger than life — full of energy, rage, and wicked humor, bristling with righteous indignation at the surreal and disturbing politics of the moment (this was March 2003, after all).  The crowd, mostly made up of students, was riveted by his booming voice, his angry eloquence, and his inspiring calls for young people to learn about history, art, and culture, and to take action against racism, militarism, ignorance, and injustice. 

Baraka’s visit to Tallahassee occurred at a very politically charged moment, both nationally and for Baraka himself — this was only months after the controversy surrounding his poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” when the governor tried, unsuccessfully, to remove him from the post of State Poet Laureate of New Jersey.  But Baraka, true to form, didn’t shy away from that poem — instead, he defiantly performed it as the centerpiece of the evening.

In short succession, I’d seen two sides of Baraka — the smiling, genial, egg-salad sandwich guy chatting about Frank O’Hara and northern New Jersey, and the dynamic and masterful performer.

Four years later, I had the chance to meet Baraka again.  In March 2007, I was given the honor of introducing Baraka when another student organization brought him to read at FSU.  Once more, we chatted before the reading, and someone snapped this picture of the two of us.  I’d just given him a copy of my book, Beautiful Enemies, and he’d just asked me to sign it.  He’s leaning on a copy of the book in the picture.
Andrew Epstein and Amiri Baraka, March 2007, Florida State University
n his poems, Baraka expressed the belief that his own identity — that any identity — was protean and plural, composed of different facets (“all / my faces turned up / to the sun,” one poem explains, while another speaks of “publicly redefining / each change in my soul”). Rather than a fixed, single entity, a “self,” for Baraka, is a process in which many different, changing selves are constantly created, dissolved, and then re-fashioned:

And let me once, create
myself.  And let you, whoever
sits now breathing on my words
create a self of your own.  One
that will love me.

Among his many different selves, Baraka was an influential, moving, and rousing poet and playwright, an incisive critic, a radical activist, but also, at least based on my own experience, a kind and generous man.  He will be missed.

When they say, “It is Roi
who is dead?” I wonder
who will they mean?

Rare footage of Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, and Amiri Baraka reading in 1959*

Posted on November 6, 2013   
by Andrew Epstein

Via the Allen Ginsberg Project, I just learned of the existence of some rare, but apparently now-available, footage by the experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas that features Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones), and Ray Bremser giving a poetry reading and hanging out together at the Living Theater in 1959.* Until now, the only remnant of that evening I’m familiar with was the well-known still photo by Fred W. McDarrah that can be seen on the Ginsberg blog.

It’s quite mind-blowing to see this familiar still image brought to life and set in motion. Here are 3 minutes of silent footage taken by Mekas. (The audio soundtrack features Ginsberg reading “Sunflower Sutra” in 1960).

There are so few moving images of O’Hara available at all that it’s a thrill to be able to see him in action. It’s also extraordinary and moving to see these poets, looking impossibly young, reading their poems, smoking, drinking, and goofing around (O’Hara even seems to be trying on a hat, possibly someone else’s, at one point). The footage also testifies to the close but complicated friendships and alliances between Beat and New York School poets in the later 1950s.

I’m especially taken with the sight of O’Hara and Baraka leaning in close to one another, laughing and at ease, exhibiting precisely the kind of intimacy and camaraderie I wrote about at length when discussing their friendship in my book Beautiful Enemies.

* Update: I’m not entirely certain of the date of the reading this footage captures because there are three dates listed in various places: the Mekas clip begins with a title card that reads 1957, the information accompanying the clip on Jonas Mekas’s site says it was filmed in 1958, while the photograph by McDarrah says it was November 2, 1959. My hunch is that the reading took place in 1959, especially if the occasion was a benefit reading for Baraka’s journal Yugen.

Allen Ginsberg (with glasses) with Amiri Baraka's back to camera--short film shows all the poets in full view talking and moving about on the stage




Upcoming conference: “Amiri Baraka at 80″ (CFP)
Posted on August 17, 2013   
by Andrew Epstein

In 2014, in honor of his 80th birthday, there will be a conference devoted to “Amiri Baraka at 80” held in England. One entry on the list of possible topics may be of particular interest here — “Jones/Baraka and the US avant-garde” — along with many others. The keynote speaker will be Paul Gilroy and the event will include a reading by Baraka himself. It sounds like it will be a great conference.

Here’s some information about the conference and details about submitting abstracts, which are due September 30.

Amiri Baraka at 80

Keynote speaker: Paul Gilroy
With a reading from Amiri Baraka

2014 marks the 80th birthday of Amiri Baraka, of one of the most influential, controversial and galvanising cultural figures of the twentieth century. As poet, novelist, playwright, music critic, editor, and cultural organiser, Baraka has extended the possibilities of modern writing. This conference, organised by the University of Kent and hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, will seek to analyse how. From his early work as LeRoi Jones through to his agitational verse since the 1970s, Baraka has interrogated the relationship between art and political action, speech and act, writer and society, tradition and power, race and class, poet and nation, in the process re-imagining and enacting a radical politics that has forever marked the US social landscape. This conference seeks to assess the scope of nearly 65 years of work, considering the importance, paradoxes and potentialities of Baraka’s career across a range of disciplines. Topics for papers may include, but will by no means be limited to:

Writing, performance and resistance
Baraka in the 21st Century
Baraka and British poetry
Third-World Baraka
Baraka and anti-capitalism
Baraka and Black Arts
Baraka and class
Baraka and race
Jones/Baraka and the US avant-garde
Music and Baraka
Baraka and gender
Baraka as editor and organiser


200-word abstracts, along with your full name, academic affiliation (if applicable), and brief bio, should be sent to Ben Hickman at by 30th September 2013.

Organising committee: David Stirrup, Juha Virtanen, David Ayers, Kat Peddie, Ariane Mildenberg, John Wills, David Herd, Simon Smith, Ben Hickman.

Baraka / the divide


We are three editors at Commune Editions, a new press for poetry and other literary writing committed to anticapitalist and antistate politics. We hope in this series for Jacket2 to consider a series of issues, texts, and moments corresponding to the intersection of poetry and communist/anarchist activity.

January 4, 2014
Amiri Baraka at the Orono Poetry Conference in 2000

(NOTE:  The following article in Jacket2 appeared only five days before Amiri's death on January 9, 2014):

At the first poetry conference I ever attended, war broke out. It was the National Poetry Foundation’s  North American Poetry in the 1960s, in 2000. Barrett Watten, fortuitously also providing Commentaries for Jacket2 just now, gave a plenary on “The Turn to Language after the 1960s,” which in my memory charted a two-way street between campus radicalism at UC Berkeley (both the Free Speech and anti-war movements) and a politics of form foundational to what would be “language writing.” In Watten's own words, “In my multimedia presentation, I tried to reconstruct a context for the poetry’s “turn to language” in the conditions of public discourse of the period, focusing on Berkeley as a site and Allen Ginsberg’s Indian Journals as a text, using Ernesto Laclau as theorist.”

From the back of the hall, Amiri Baraka wasn't having it. There are varying accounts of the debate, though few understate the vituperation. I was sitting just a few feet from Baraka and he was pissed. For some, the bone of contention was whether the FSM and the purportedly petit-bourgeois concerns of students offered a serious politics, and thus a serious way to understand the historical period, in comparison to the Civil Rights Movement, for example. Alongside this, there was a more immediate insistence that the militancy of the era was being recuperated into academicism: “Baraka...finally lashed out at Watten for being a ‘hyper-rational pseudo-radical’ and for ‘pimping‘ radical politics for his own academic benefit.” The argument might have gone all night but for the hasty intervention of the organizers, who arranged for the two to continue matters the next day during a special lunchtime debate.

Of that latter event, I recall largely the set-up. Watten arrived loaded with books to argue his position, which he built into a fortification of texts on the folding table: here, surely, was the materiality of the signifier. Baraka, in counterpoint which would have been comedic but for the charged atmosphere, pulled from various pockets some wadded notes. The divide between the two could not have been more decisive. In memory, it reduces easily to clichés: the militant and the scholastic, town vs. gown, raced and classed, divided by irreconcilable structural positions.

The tension nested most dramatically in one exchange. Watten had shown a clip from a PBS dcumentary in which a former Panther claimed that they had raised money for guns by buying Mao’s Little Red Book cheap in Chinatown and selling it dear on the Berkeley campus; the Panther claimed not to have read it himself. For Watten, this made of the celebrated text an empty signfier. For Baraka, this move effaced one of the signal political events of the century. “And besides, this is just one man who said he hadn’t read the book. We read Mao, Baraka insisted.”

I was put in mind of this as Baraka has been in the news of late; he turns 80 this year, and his health has been uneven. The prospect of living in a world without Baraka is a bleak one. He is not without failings — human, all too human — but he wrote eighty great poems and he wrote

you cant steal nothin from a white man, he's already stole it he owes you anything you want, even his life. All the stores will open if you will say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall mother fucker this is a stick up! Or Smash the window at night (these are magic actions) smash the windows daytime, anytime, together,  lets smash the window drag the shit from in there. No money down. No time to pay. Just take what you want.

There is something from that 2000 debate which seems paradigmatic, if misleadingly so. The skepticism about university leftists in relation to communities of color and political organizing casts a long shadow in the Bay Area, where Commune Editions lives. The contemporary association of Marxism with whiteness, bourgeois hypocrisy, obfuscatory theory, and scholasticism is not universal, but not uncommon either. In this context it is salutary to be reminded with a start that Baraka is a Marxist, was one in 2000 as he pulled the scraps of paper from his pockets, was one when he joined the Congress of Afrikan People, which would become the Revolutionary Communist League.

It is difficult now to imagine the commingling of cultural nationalism and Maoist thought, to imagine its prevalence in the sixties and seventies among intellectuals and militants, to imagine the synthesis of positions to which this tradition aspired — a systemic critique of capitalism staged from the position of the peripheral, the colonized, the underdeveloped world, the subjects of empire domestic and global. Perhaps it is easier to see in France for example, where past and present Maoist intellectuals remain international figures: Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Badiou, Julia Kristeva. Jean-Marie Gleize, just translated into English, is scarcely the only poet who identifies thusly. In the United States, a set of phantom oppositions render such a confluence practically inconceivable. It has for the most part been forgotten that the Panthers themselves, adopting and adapting elements from Mao, moved from black nationalism toward revolutionary internationalism, much as did Baraka.

It would be easy enough to reflect on that world’s  passing away — there’s always room for more left melancholy! Moreover, the limits of Maoism and third-worldism deserve attention. But not here, not now. The document that I have found most moving in the last year is the list of books taken from George Jackson's cell in 1971, after his shooting by prison guards. It has its oddities: Euell Gibbons? And so few women! But I wish that my friends had read half of these books. I wish that I had. This is part of what Baraka means. For the present I want to hold on to the possibility that we are at a divide, that the moment in which the opposition between clichés of intellectualism and clichés of militancy might dissolve is both behind us and ahead. 

Jasper Bernes is a lecturer in the Department of English UC Berkeley, where he received his PhD in 2012. He is currently completing a book manuscript, The Work of Art in the Age of Deindustrialization, about the role literature and art play in the postindustrial restructuring of labor. He is also the author of a book of poems, Starsdown (ingirum, 2007) and two small chapbooks, Desequencer (Taxt, 2009) and We Are Nothing and So Can You (Tenured Ninja, 2012). Recent poems of his appear in Lana Turner, The Capilano Review, The American Reader and Everyday Genius. He has also published on contemporary politics and social movements in Endnotes, The New Inquiry, Los Angeles Review of Books and the anthology Communization and its Discontents.

Joshua Clover is the author of four books, two poetry and two cultural theory. He recently edited and co-translated Tarnac, a preparatory act by Jean-Marie Gleize (Kenning Editions, 2014); he has articles forthcoming in Representations, South Atlantic Quarterly, and Critical Inquiry. The poetry collection Red Epic is due out this year, and The Transformation Problem: Poetry, Capital, Crisis is expected before the world ends.

In addition to Commune Editions, Juliana Spahr edits the book series Chain Links with Jena Osman and the collectively funded Subpress with nineteen other people. With David Buuck she wrote Army of Lovers,a book about two friends who are writers in a time of war and ecological collapse. She has edited with Stephanie Young A Megaphone: Some Enactments, Some Numbers, and Some Essays about the Continued Usefulness of Crotchless-pants-and-a-machine-gun Feminism (Chain Links, 2011), with Joan Retallack Poetry & Pedagogy: the Challenge of the Contemporary(Palgrave, 2006), and with Claudia Rankine American Women Poets in the 21st Century(Wesleyan U P, 2002). With Joshua Clover, she has twice organized somewhat free schools, the 95 cent Skool (summer of 2010) and the Durruti Free Skool (summer of 2011), written on politics, on manifestos, applied for a job at the Poetry Foundation, and organized, with Chris Chen too, the conference Poetry and/or Revolution.

All of the entries here are collectively authored. We might use "I" in ways that are confusing or inconsistent, though we will try to avoid this. It's really ok