Max Roach Music, Records Go To Library of Congress

Music and recordings from Max Roach, one of the creators of modern jazz drumming, will be preserved at the Library of Congress, curators and his family announced Monday.

Photo: Kevork Djansezian, File/AP
Performing at the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles.

Over the past year, the library has been preparing and organizing Roach’s personal collection from his body of work over several decades. The collection includes more than 100,000 items, including 80,000 manuscripts and papers, as well as photographs, music manuscripts and hundreds of sound and video recordings.

Roach worked with other such jazz greats as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk to develop the jazz style known as bebop. And beyond the confines of music, Roach was engaged with the civil rights movement.

“He’s a major figure, not just in jazz but in American music,” said Larry Appelbaum, a music specialist and jazz curator at the library. “Max represented much more than just a musician or even a composer. He was at the nexus of music, civil rights and black power because he was among that wave of socially conscious musicians.”

Roach studied music on many levels. He wrote about his disdain for the label of “jazz.” To him, it represented “the worst of working conditions for an artist.” He didn’t want to be reduced to a stereotype or cliche, curators said.

One of his most important cultural and political works was his “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite” from 1960.

“It’s a bold statement,” Appelbaum said of the music. “And it really caught the fervor of the times.”

The NAACP signed him to a $1,000 contract to perform at a concert as part of the movement leading up to the March on Washington.

The collection includes Roach’s correspondence with author Maya Angelou, Coretta Scott King, and other leading figures.

Roach’s family attended a dedication ceremony at the library Monday for the new Max Roach Collection. The materials will be available to researchers in the library’s Performing Arts Reading Room on Capitol Hill.

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Roach and his family began looking for a home before he died in 2007.

Maxine Roach, his eldest daughter and a fellow musician, said her father would be extremely pleased to see his collection go to the library. Max Roach, a one-time university professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, had said he just wanted his children to keep his materials together after he was gone.

Growing up in the Roach household, Raoul Roach, his second son, said the family was always Afrocentric and aware of its roots.

“As a drummer, he understood where the drum came from,” Raoul Roach said. “He understood that as the source for everyone – but especially for his music.”

At one point on a hotel stationery notepad, Roach wrote about his education in music.

“I attended the university of the streets in the ‘Harlems’ of the USA,” he wrote. “My professors were Duke Ellington, Sonny Greer, Baby Dodds, Louis Armstrong. … My classmates were Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charlie Mingus, Theolonius Monk, Miles Davis.”