Todd Hildreth.

By Todd Hildreth

Like many others, I was excited to hear that Max Roach was going to give a master class at the University of Louisville earlier in March. I could only imagine with anticipation and excitement the sort of fascinating stories and insights this drumming legend would have for fans and musicians. One of the last living founders of bebop had come to call, and I, for one, was very, very . . .


Well, not at first. He started by talking about his earliest experiences in music and jazz. He told us of his first gig with Ellington and his first gig with Bird. He showed us an exercise to "get a sound from the drums." He had some people play and offered criticism. This was great stuff, but after this (about twenty minutes in), he brought a television in and told us he had something to show us.

Max Roach autographs a drumhead. Photo by Eddie Davis

That's where he lost me.

It wasn't that the tape was dull, it was simply that I had come to see Max Roach, not a tape of Max Roach. The video documented an album that Roach did in the Seventies. It explored the creation of each tune and the thought behind them. Again, there was nothing wrong with this video. The tunes were good and the concept appealing. It's just that I began to think that he was killing time. If this tape were a documentary that spanned his whole career, it would have made more sense. If it were a project that he had just recently finished, I would have understood. But one album he did in the Seventies? All those Afros and bell bottoms? Where's the relevance? And it was long. Forty minutes long.

Maybe Max didn't have time to prepare a lecture with all that he is doing, but he could have talked about what he had for breakfast and I would have been enthralled. I guess what I'm saying is we came to see Max Roach, to hear what he had to say. It didn't have to be polished or brilliant, just sincere. Maybe he did feel what he did was sincerely in our interest. I would feel good about being wrong on this one. After the tape, he took questions for fifteen minutes and left.

Oh, well.

Speaking of breakfast, I did have the pleasure of playing for Max the day before the master class. I was with a trio and we didn't even know he was there until he passed by as he was leaving. When I saw him, I looked up from my keyboard and smiled, as if to say, "Well, I'm trying." He nodded to us and went out the door. I then recalled that earlier someone complained to a waiter that we were too loud.

Maybe it was Max.