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Bumping into Max Roach: my close encounter with a jazz legend

Max Roach, the legendary jazz drummer died a few days ago. The Audiophiliac recalls a chance meeting and audiophile encounter from long ago.

I read the sad news yesterday of the death of jazz drummer Max Roach, he was 83. He played on the first bebop records with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in the 1940s and later worked with Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and many, many others. He remained active until fairly recently.

I literally bumped into Max Roach at the Tower Records store near Lincoln Center in the early 1980s. We were both deep in browsing mode when we collided; I looked up and immediately recognized him. We each excused ourselves while I tried to remain calm as we discussed whatever LPs we were holding in our hands. But hot damn, I'm two feet away from the legendary drummer. He told me a little about his all percussion group, M'Boom and their new LP, "Collage," and promised to send a copy to my home, which he did.

Apogee Scintilla speakers
The now defunct Apogee Speakers (shown here in a user photo) Jonathan Wheeldon, Apogee Speakers Users Website

He was so easy to talk to I invited him to check out the high-end audio store where I was working as a salesman. Mr. Roach said he would drop in sometime, and sure nuff, a few weeks later he strolled in with a few LPs under his arm. I was shaking a little as I lowered the stylus into the groove on the Miles Davis LP he had handed me. I quickly excused myself and let him listen alone. When I returned he had a disappointed look on his face, but he listened for maybe another 20 minutes, and thanked me for playing the system. When I asked what he thought of the sound, he said it was nothing like the real thing, which was what he was hoping for. The sleek, flat panel speakers were made by a company that went out of business many years ago, but at the time Apogee's all-aluminum "ribbon" speakers were all the rage. He loved the looks of the speakers, that's for sure. Over the years since I've heard many speakers that Max Roach would have liked better, but that was my one shot, and the speakers didn't pass the audition.

If you want to get a taste of his music, start with "Money Jungle," a trio record he did with Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus in 1962.