The Max Roach quartet was playing at the State Theatre in Detroit. I think it's called the Fillmore now. It was finally my chance to see the great Max Roach in person. At the time, (early 1996) I'd been listening and transcribing whatever I could find. I would head to Liberty Records in Ann Arbor and buy pretty much anything with Max on it.
I was relatively early-on in my jazz studies and had only been playing the music for a couple of years, but I'd honed in on Max, Art Blakey and Philly Joe as the architects and pioneers of the music, at least as far as the drums were concerned.
I left very early to make sure any delays at the border wouldn't cause me to be late or miss the show. Everything went smoothly and I was at the theatre about an hour early.
I walked up to the theatre thinking I would spend my time at the bar until the door opened. as I walked into the theatre I saw a red-carpeted stairway. I couldn't see past the door at the end, but intrigued I climbed the old, seemingly vertical stairway. When I reached the top I saw what was obviously a pre-show party. I recognised a few people from the Detroit music scene, Ed Love the great jazz DJ, and I remember seeing Larry Nozero and Kirk Lightsey having a drink in the corner bar. Then, I looked to my immediate right and I see the great Max Roach standing with a friend, not 5 feet away. I calmly walked up to him, mumbled something about being a huge fan, blah blah, and handed him my program and the sharpie I had stashed in my coat pocket. He looked at his friend and smiled a gentle smile, and autographed my program complete with a semi-abstract drawing of a drum set.
I'm pretty good at not overstaying my welcome, so I thanked Mr. Roach, shook his hand, nervously shook his friends hand (I suppose to apologise for the intrusion) and left down the same steep stairway.
By that time the bar had opened so I adjourned myself to savour my good luck and study every stroke of my newly acquired autograph.
It's funny how the mind works. I opened my program and looked at the artwork. Then I thought to myself 'Shit. That was Roy Brooks standing there with Max Roach'. I had happened upon two of the great drummers of our time, Roy Brooks being one of the most fertile creative minds of the Detroit/American scene, a great, almost unsung hero, and I had virtually ignored his presence while I fanned over Max Roach. You idiot. It wasn't missing a moment to bag 2 legendary autographs that made me feel so terrible. It's the fact that Roy Brooks was/is a legend, and hasn't had an easy time of it. Although he'd played with greats like Woody Shaw, Yousef Lateef, Horace Silver and Charles Mingus, and made some of the most adventurous music I've ever heard, he'd never rreally achieved the level of notoriety of his contemporaries, and struggled for years with mental illness, ending his life in poverty and imprisonment. I somehow felt my inadvertent snub, no matter how innocent in some way reflected, to him, the lack of wide-spread recognition that had been afforded the likes of Max Roach. It's bothered my ever since, and I've thought about that evening many times over the years.
The next day was a Saturday, if I remember. I drove to Ann Arbor Michigan to Borders Books and Music, which at the time had the best-curated jazz section in Detroit, and I bought 5 or 6 Roy Brooks records, including:
- The Free Slave (on vinyl)
- Duet in Detroit
- The Golden Flute (Yousef Lateef)
- M'Boom (with Max Roach, again on vinyl)
I can't remember the others, but these 4 have stayed with me to today, and The Free Slave is one of the great records of all time, featuring a young Woody Shaw, with Cecil McBee, George Coleman and I think Hugh Lawson on piano. Damn, I wish I had been more in the moment and recognised the great Roy Brooks.