AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
This letter was rejected by the local mainstream print media.
To the Editor:
( “Obituary: Max Roach/Innovative jazz drummer” Friday, August 17, 2007). Max Roach loved Pittsburgh. It was one of his favorite jazz towns. That’s what he told his fans who came out to a sunday evening reception in early 1982. The tribute was sponsored by Jazz Monday at the old Pyramid Lounge on North Highland Avenue in East Liberty.
Back then, former Pittsburgh city councilman Sala Udin was the director of the House of the Crossroads, a Hill District drug rehab program. Jazz Monday was a fundraising project for the Crossroads.
Max talked informally about the history and sociology of “The Music.” He reminisced about the Crawford Grill, the Ellis Hotel and other places where he had played in the city over the years. He paid tribute to Pittsburgh artists Bobby Boswell, Stanley Turrentine, and Tommy Turrentine who played in one of his 1960s ensembles, and also to Kenny Fisher another Pittsburgh musician who played with him in the 1970s.
The following night, the Pittsburgh Jazz All-Stars, including Joe Harris on drums and Nelson Hairston on trombone, open a Jazz Monday concert at Carnegie Hall which featured the Max Roach Quartet in an unforgettable evening of “The Music.”
Later, Sala told the Jazz Monday board that after the concert Max Roach made a contribution to the Crossroads’ project.
Six years later, the Max Roach Quartet gave a stellar performance in August 1988 at the Harambee II Black Arts Festival in Homewood. Max performed for a nominal fee to help promote African American art and culture. Harambee board member Gail Austin said she had tried to apologize to Max for the neighborhood kids who rode their bikes through the festival area during the concert. In reply, Max said never-no-mind; he was elated to play a major jazz concert in the heart of the black community with young folks present.
Several years later, Max gave a workshop at the Frick International Studies Academy in Oakland. On four different occasions, four different people told me the workshop was almost too good to be true, too positive to really be real. In the words of Duke Ellington, it was “Beyond Category.”
A former Frick teacher, Constance Bailey said Max’s rapport with the students was unbelievable. Pittsburgh educator Dr. Stanley Denton said you had to be there to witness it to appreciate the beauty of the workshop. Dr. Wallace Woodard, another educator, said Max took the simple three-note melody of Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” and by the end of the workshop all of the students were swinging and jamming, both on time and in tune. Wallace said he was almost moved to tear; Connie Bailey said the very same thing. Much later, the former principal of Frick, Ernestine Reed told me that everything I had been told about the workshop, and more, was true. She said it was “marvelous.”
This is how Max Roach the legendary musician, the consummate teacher, and committed social activist is remembered in Pittsburgh by some of the people he loved.