Admin sadly informs ya’ll: One of the greatest of all Brooklynites, the brilliant drummer, composer, activist & educator, Max Roach, passed away this morning; I had heard Max was in a nursing home in Mill Basin the last few years but I don’t know if that’s where he died. While others will provide more biographical details & WKCR will surely grace us with a long memorial broadcast, I’d like to offer some words from Gilbert Sorrentino (1929-2006), another giant who left us last year after a battle with cancer in Bay Ridge. Following is the first chapter from Gil’s novel Steelwork (1970). Max Roach was the drummer on “Koko,” & much else besides.
KoKo. What did that mean? Gibby and Donnie G sat listening to it for the fourth time in Donnie’s room. Whole pieces of their world were being chipped off and shredded, ruthlessly. Great blasts of foreign air. A foreign air, the whole wide world entering the house.
Donnie had called Gibby in to hear it, a record he bought for the other side, a Don Byas ballad. And there was this Charles Parker and his Re-Bop Boys playing “KoKo.” They stared at each other, sharing a Wings. They were almost frightened.
Nothing to do with the street or the neighborhood or Yodel’s or Al or Eddy. Or the girls. Or the Friday night dances. Or the local Democratic Club. 8-Ball. A clear-edged world of turmoil and darkness. Black.
A foreign air. It might have been Rimbaud come to their ears in perfect candor. What was the drummer doing? The notes crammed together and released, zipping, glittering. The sound of that bright metal being flailed.
They left themselves. They came back. They laughed and played an hour of Benny Goodman and then played Parker again. The same clear joy. They went outside and the street seemed different, they saw it narrow, with people closed out from the gigantic world. It had blasted a hole in the wall around them. Through which, Appolinaire, beckoning them to his fabulous Texas. Charles Parker singing underneath the limes.