Drum Soloist

Max Roach

Transcription And Analysis

by Lowell Schiff

The following is excerpted from a soon to be released instruction manual on jazz drumming by Lowell Schiff, entitled Toward a Theory of Jazz Drumming.Album: Deeds Not Words. Title of Tune: Jody ‘s Cha-Cha.Max Roach’s artistic development in the late 40’s and early 50’s made it clear that an evolutionary change had occurred in jazz drumming. The pre-40’s style of soloing was to keep time with a steady beat on the bass drum. In this solo you don’t hear a steady bass drum. You do, however, hear a walking bass throughout.

Leaving out the bass drum not only allowed, but forced the drummer to learn more about time and phrases and form; and the drum set in general. The drummer had to internalize the “time” – to feel the steady flow of time without having to state it, and to feel it so strongly that he could play syncopations utilizing four limbs without losing the time flow. Now that the bass drum was no longer restricted to playing a steady beat, it could be used as an integral part of the rhythmic line.

The displacement of the beat with the bass drum has a profoundly disorienting effect on the listener, and thus, lends itself to a most favorable syncopation when integrated into the rhythmic line. EX. measures 3 & 4, 17 through 20, 27 & 28. Notice how often in this solo Max will end one phrase on the beat, then answer that phrase with another ending off the beat with the bass drum. EX. measures 9 & 1 1 , 33-36.

It’s as if playing and accenting an off-beat eighth note in the bass were so rhythmically profound that it disorients us “time”, and a certain amount of time must elapse before we can recover. How much space to leave is a delicate issue. Max Roach is the master of this, so great is his sensitivity to the flow. His phrases breathe and are very conversational; never hyper; sounding like a relaxed exploration of favorable rhythmic groupings and resolutions utilizing the whole drum set and within the structure of the music.

In measures 21 & 22, with the use of just six notes, Max implies a feeling of three; not quite enough to shake you out of four; but before you can stop and say, “Hey, look what I just heard”, he segues with a succession of role-like triplets into the next idea. The feeling of anticipation produced throughout this solo is uncanny. He sort of teases you with brief syncopations or brief implied superimpositions of three-four; then leaves you wanting more.

In measures 47 & 48, Max superimposes a 3/4 pulse which he resolves on the first beat of measure 49 with a strong bass drum and cymbal crash. He sets up the same exact rhythm starting on measure 57, this time sustaining the 3/4 feel through measure 59. Then he sort of triplet-rolls us into the final four bars. Meanwhile the listener who has just been ravaged, his mental barlines broken down; his temporal equilibrium demolished by three full measures of superimposed 3/4 time, has so much residual tension built up, that for him, the release doesn’t come until the band hits in on the first beat of the “outchorus”. So, that’s it – a beautifully formed, musically relevant drum solo. Max Roach was the man who showed the world what it could really sound like.

ED. NOTE: The notation below may, at first glance, appear confusing to those of us accustomed to five line drum set notation. However with careful scrutiny and study, one will recognize that Mr. Schiff has cre- ated a system which accounts for the various drums and the rhythmic notation all on a one line format; a system we find most refreshing and ingenious.

Key to notation:

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Drum Soloist 2