Happy Birthday, Max Roach!

Today Max Roach, jazz musician, activist, educator and collector, would have turned 88.  Swann is proud to offer several works from the artist’s estate in our upcoming February 16 sale of African-American Fine Art, including a sriking group of portraits of Roach by David Hammons & Bruce Talamon. The screenprints were sent to the artist by Hammons & Talamon as potential album artwork, though it is unknown whether or not they were ever used.
David Hammons & Bruce Talamon, Untitled (Max Roach Album Art), group of 4 color screenprints, 1977. Estimate $50,000 to $75,000. At auction February 16.
Max Roach was born in North Carolina but grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His early exposure to music came through the church, but he found himself drawn to the drums from a very early age. He was still a teenager when he began to play with such jazz masters as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Coleman Hawkins. Before the age of 30, he had already become one of the seminal drummers of the 20th century, whose breakthroughs influenced several subsequent generations. His early successes as a sideman led him to even great achievements as a bandleader in his own right starting in the 1950s.

Always among the most socially engaged of jazz artists, Roach was an inspiring figure both to the Civil Rights movement and to the Black Power movement that developed in the 1960s. His “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite” (1960) was one of the most powerful artistic statements to come out of that milieu and is consistently cited as one of the key recordings in the history of jazz music. His collaborations with other artists ran from classic jazz combos to full orchestras; vocal choruses and inventive string ensembles, including the Uptown String Quartet and the Double Quartet with his daughter Maxine; large all-percussion groups, improvisational duos with avant-garde adventurers such as Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp and Anthony Braxton and major dance productions with such figures as Alvin Ailey and Bill T. Jones. His theatrical partnerships embraced playwrights as diverse as William Shakespeare and Amiri Baraka, Sam Shepard and Wole Soyinka.

Roach’s contributions went well beyond the strictly musical. Ever cognizant of the exploitation of black musicians, he was never hesitant to speak out against injustice. He was a leading businessman, co-founding (with Charles Mingus) the Debut Records label, operating his own publishing and production companies (Milma, MR Productions), even organizing alternative festivals and venues to assure the fair treatment of participating musicians. He was a dedicated teacher, serving from 1972 on the music faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and generously sharing his insights and experiences via lectures and public appearances worldwide. An adventurous creator, a tireless performer, an articulate spokesman, a passionate educator, Roach was recognized as one of the great American artists and received numerous honors and awards, including the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant.

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