A different beat

by Louis Barfe

Ask most people who is or was the greatest drummer in the world, and you’ll probably get Buddy Rich or Ringo Starr. Both are vitally important figures in the history of percussion, but neither has been honoured by having a recreation area in Brixton, south London, named after them. However, if you trot along the Brixton Road, you will find Max Roach Park. With Kenny ‘Klook’ Clarke, Roach was the joint architect of bebop and, by extension, all modern jazz drumming, and last week in his Radio 3 show (Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz, Saturdays at midnight), Geoffrey Smith (himself a pretty decent sticksman) looked at the career and legacy of roach. Smith made an excellent point at the start of the show. Everybody (apart from maybe my next-door neighbours) loves drums. Just about everybody who sees a drum kit unattended wants to have a go on it. Drums are fun. However, this sometimes makes people forget how hard it is to play drums well and musically. Roach blazed a trail. He kept a great time, but he also decorated the music. I was listening to the show as I drove my drums to a gig of my own, and I’m sure I played better that night because I’d been listening to the master. Smith also highlighted Roach’s later heavily political work by playing driva man from Freedom Now!, sung by Roach’s wife Abbey Lincoln. With Roach, the usual drummer jokes about intelligence emphatically did not apply. In closing, I have to admit that I was sad when Smith was moved off jazz record requests, fearing that he’d be sidelined, but this show goes from strength to strength. He chooses his own records rather than playing requests, he chooses well, and he supplies all the background needed. For each artist featured, Geoffrey Smith's jazz is a perfect primer.