The life and music of jazz great Max Roach, one of the founding fathers of the modernist style known as bebop, will be forever memorialized for future generations in the nation’s library. The Library of Congress recently celebrated the acquisition of Roach’s vast personal collection of papers, music, photos, and audio and video recordings. Over his decades-long career, Roach communicated and collaborated with some of the greatest names in jazz history.
Held at the Library’s majestic Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C., the celebratory event included a conversation with the people who best knew Roach’s life, work and advocacy—his children Daryl Roach, Maxine Roach, Ayo Roach, Dara Roach and Raoul Roach. “Our family is thrilled that our father’s rich legacy has found a home at the Library of Congress,” said his daughter Maxine, who is also founder of the Uptown String Quartet. “Our father had a sense of his place in the history of America’s original music and for decades he collected testaments to his mastery in the form of recorded sounds, video, photos, papers, letters, awards, collaborations, gifts, honors, struggles and friendships. All will be on display at this very great and prestigious institution. And though he is no longer here, his artistry and humanity will live on in this magnificent building. We thank the Library of Congress for this high honor for our father. We know he is pleased.”
“As a drummer, composer, bandleader, educator and activist, Max Roach had a profound impact on American music,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “His collection will have high research value not just for musicians and jazz scholars, but for anyone exploring the rise of political consciousness among African-Americans in the post-World War II period. His collection will now be preserved in the nation’s library so that his legacy and works might inspire generations to come.”
“I attended the University of the streets in the ‘Harlems’ of the USA,” Roach wrote on a hotel stationery notepad, which can be found in this multifaceted collection. “My professors were Duke Ellington, Sonny Greer, Baby Dodds, Louis Armstrong … My classmates were Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis …”
Born on Jan. 14, 1924 in New Land, North Carolina, Roach grew up in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant and attended the Manhattan School of Music. He played with Ellington and Parker as a teenager and, over a 60-year career, became one of the leading innovators in jazz. Roach was a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and became the first jazz musician to receive a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” He was posthumously honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Roach’s personal archive features musical scores, manuscripts, business papers, correspondence, lesson plans, photographs, prints and drawings, and rare audiovisual recordings. Materials from Roach’s musical, theatrical, dance and multimedia collaborations are meticulously detailed in the collection, including ongoing exchanges with Parker, Gillespie, Monk, Mingus, Nina Simone, Alvin Ailey, and playwrights Sam Shepard and Amiri Baraka.
Roach gave voice to his black consciousness and the African-American experience through his music as well as his activism. There is revealing correspondence about his work with such civil rights organizations as the NAACP and SNCC, as well as with writer Maya Angelou and various associates of Malcolm X.
This extraordinary rich collection totals more than 100,000 items, comprising about 80,000 manuscripts and papers; 7,500 photographic materials; 1,000 music manuscripts; and hundreds of sound and video recordings. Highlights from the collection include:
• An unpublished draft of his autobiography, written with the late Amiri Baraka;
• A holograph score from “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite”;
• An unpublished recording—dated Nov. 14, 1964—of legendary pianist Hassan Ibn Ali;
• A “Solo on the Drums” rehearsal for the television program
“With Ossie & Ruby,” featuring Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Billy Taylor and Max Roach;
• An unpublished 1969 recording of Max Roach with former wife Abbey Lincoln in Iran;
• An unpublished Cecil Taylor and Max Roach duet in Italy in 2000;
• The “An Evening with Max Roach” broadcast, Sept. 8, 1964;
• Interviews and performances with Max Roach, Gary Bartz, Woody Shaw, Stanley Cowell and Reggie Workman for Tokyo radio in 1977.
• Rarely seen photos of Roach with Art Blakey, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, Abbey Lincoln and many more.
The Max Roach Collection will be available in the Library’s Performing Arts Reading Room on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The collection will complement the Library’s existing collections of Charles Mingus, Billy Taylor, Gerry Mulligan, Alvin Ailey, Dexter Gordon, Louis Bellson and Shelly Manne.
The Library’s unparalleled music holdings include manuscripts, scores, sound recordings, books, libretti, music-related periodicals and microforms, copyright deposits and musical instruments. Manuscripts of note include those of European masters such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms and those of American masters such as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein and Charles Mingus. The Alan Lomax collection of field recordings of American roots music, Woody Guthrie’s original recordings and manuscripts, and one-of-a-kind recordings of bluesman Robert Johnson from the 1930s are also among the Library’s musical treasures. For more information about the division’s holdings of music, theater and dance, visit www.loc.gov/rr/perform/.
Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov.