A TRIBUTE TO THE GREAT MAX ROACH!

PANEGYRIC TO A PEERLESS PERCUSSIONIST VIRTUOSO
A FOUNDING FATHER OF BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT
One of the brightest moments of my youth was when I came home from school on my 16 BIRTHDAY and found a set of white mother of pearl drums with Zyljan cymbals exactly like those played by the great Max Roach! They were a gift from my Aunt Marie, a classically trained pianist, organist, choir master and certified music teacher who taught music privately and in the public schools go 50.years. Along with the “Negro Spirituals,” her curriculum consisted of mostly European Classical concert music.
However she also loved the music of Ragtime, Stride and Boogie Woogie pianists such as Scott Joplin, Hubie Blake, James P. Johnson, “Fats: Waller; Mead Lux Lewis, et al. And would play them right beside Bach and Beethoven. Her brother, my grandfather the legendary Walter ” Big Nang” Bellamy, was also a pianist and band leader, of whom she would say:” I have the training but Nang has the gift.” She loved all great music and musicians, thus she understood my reverence for the great Max Roach.
Along with her sister, Aunt Rosa, they encouraged me in every worthy endeavor in which I expressed an interest. An English teacher who introduced me to the plays and poems of “The Bard of Avon,” taught me the art of oratory, and gave me beautiful books on every subject on which I showed an interest – from horses to physics – Aunt Rosa is the principle reason that I became a professor of history and journalism, an able orator, award winning journalist and a published Shakespeare critic.
And Aunt Marie is the reason I became a drummer, band leader and widely published music critic. Although I ended up playing conga drums rather than the jazz set, which was my original ambition. However it was because of Max that I became attracted to the drum kit, and also the reason why I quit!
When Aunt Marie gifted me with a replica of Max Roach’s drum set it was a surreal experience, because Max was a God like figure to me! He was everything I aspired to be: Elegant of style and manner, a man’s man and a ladies man, the epitome of hip, a paragon of cool, and the greatest drummer in the world!  When I first heard him play I was a fledgling trumpet player in our school band who was strongly attracted to the drums. A hip young band master and music teacher told us one day in “Music Appreciation” class, that he was going to introduce us to ” the greatest quintet in modern western music!”
Then he put on an album of the Max Roach Quintet featuring Clifford Brown ” Live at Newport.” Although that was over 60 years ago, I can still remember the cuts he played: “Move” and “Delilah.” I had two reactions. After hearing the sonic alchemy of “Sweet” Clifford Brown, I PUT THE TRUMPET DOWN! But after hearing the majestic poly-rhythmic thunder of Max Roach’s drumming, I was smitten by the drums. It was a transcendent sound that lifted my spirit up…and it never came down!
However just a couple of years after my Aunt Marie gifted me the drum kit, I went off to Florida A&M and got involved in the black student Sit-in Movement that swept the south in the spring of 1960, sparked by the courageous students at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro. My commitment to the Black Liberation Movement as the 1960’s unfolded became all consuming, and I recognized the I had to make a choice between activism or striving to become a great musician like my idol Max Roach, a once in a century artist who, like Charlie “Yardbird” Parker with whom he collaborated, greatly expanded the possibilities of his art.  Nobody had ever played the drum kit like Max; a true innovator.
I chose the movement, and devoted myself to the enormous amount of study it required in order to make an important contribution to that great struggle. So I stopped playing.  However, Max would again emerge as a culture hero and inspiration to me when he became a founder and leading figure in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s that TRANSFORMED the vision and aspirations of black artists and challenged them to commit themselves to the liberation struggle.
There are several versions regarding the origins of the Black Arts Movement – a transformational event which one could argue was a rebirth and detention of the Harlem Renaissance that flowered four decades earlier during the 1920’s.  However the true birthplace of the BAM was the founding of the “AFRICAN JAZZ ART SOCIETY in 1958 by artists and photographer, Cecil and Ronnie Brathwaite – who metamorphosed into Elombe and Kwame, Max Roach, and his beautiful multi-talented wife Abby Lincoln – singer, songwriter and actress. The album the produced together, “WE INSIST: FREEDOM NOW!”* became the sound track for the Black Liberation Movement.” I can say these things with unimpeachable authority BECAUSE I WAS AN EYE WITNESS TO IT ALL!!!
Hence even after I had abandoned my musical ambitions Max Roach remained a great hero and inspiration to me. During the 1960’s I got to know and became great friends with my boyhood hero. The high points of our relationship was when I got to play Conga’s in a performance with his band in Philly, and we brought down the house on Dizzy Gillespie’s famous tune, “A NIGHT IN TUNISIA.” And the apex was when we appointed Max to a FULL PROFESSORSHIP of Jazz Studies in the WEB Dubois Department of Black Studies, of which I was a founder at U-Mass Amherst. It was as if the Gods and the noble Ancestors had competed the circle of Destiny.
In the photograph above, shot by Ed Cohen, a great Amherst photographer, whose prolific portraits of Jazz musicians are a PRICELESS TREASURE TROVE! I was offering a libation to Max’s memory along with a spoken word eulogy I presented, in a Tribute held in Max’s native home, Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, after the master musician, great man, and indefatigable cultural warrior, had recently danced and joined the ANCESTORS. ACHE!

We Insist!  Freedom Now

The Background Sound of the Black Revolution!
Such Sweet Thunder!
(69) Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite – YouTube
Great Artist Conjure Sonic Alchemy

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