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‘Sacred Jazz’ series will commemorate legendary drummer Max Roach

Mandile Mpofu
‘Sacred Jazz’ series will commemorate legendary drummer Max Roach
Max Roach, the avant-garde drummer of 1940s bebop jazz, was born 100 years ago this year. PHOTO: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

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When Yoron Israel began pursuing a career as a professional drummer, he looked to trailblazing musician, composer and bandleader Max Roach for inspiration. Born in 1924, Roach was one of the pioneers of bebop, the fast-tempo jazz style that emerged in the 1940s. He was also a role model.

“He wasn’t the very first jazz drummer that I heard, but he was the most influential … and the drummer who I identified with a great deal,” said Israel, who now teaches at Berklee College of Music.

Drummer and Berklee College of Music professor Yoron Israel and his quartet will play a selection of pieces from Max Roach’s career to honor the late drummer’s legacy. PHOTO: BECKY YEE

Roach’s melodic style captivated Israel. The way Roach captured a sound, a concept — it was something Israel had never heard before, something he didn’t think possible. While drums were typically considered the timekeeping instruments in a band, Roach proved that they could be so much more, Israel said.

“It really expanded my comprehension of the instrument that I was studying at the time, and it went beyond the technical aspects,” he said, adding that Roach showed him that drummers could be bandleaders.

This year is Roach’s centennial, and to celebrate, Israel and his quartet will partner with local arts organization Puddingstone Creatives to honor Roach’s influence on the music industry as a part of a concert series called the “Sacred Jazz Music Series.”

The series, made up of three concerts, will pay homage to jazz, gospel and soul music, said Verna Hampton, founder and executive artistic director of Puddingstone Creatives. Israel will take the stage on June 30 at the Resurrection Lutheran Church. Playing alongside him will be the other members of his quartet — Laszlo Gardony on piano, Jacques Schwarz-Bart on saxophone and Keala Kaumeheiwa on bass.

At the start of this year, Israel knew he wanted to put on multiple concerts in Roach’s honor. He even performed one at Berklee in March. So, when Hampton, a longtime collaborator, invited him to be a part of the series honoring jazz and gospel, he agreed, given Roach’s notable influence on his musicianship and the music industry more broadly.

“When we talk about the bebop of the ’40s into the hard bop of the ’50s to the protest music of the ’60s, to the avant-garde of the ’60s and the ’70s, [Roach] was a major component, and his artistry reflected what art does so well — reflected the times that were happening,” Israel said.

Israel and his group aim to showcase this impact during “Max Roach 100,” their performance of a range of music associated with Roach’s discography, featuring a selection of pieces from different times in the iconic drummer’s career.

Beyond celebrating Roach, both Israel and Hampton said that at the heart of the Sacred Jazz Music Series is a desire to highlight local art.

“Music brings forth so many emotions and feelings for people,” Hampton said, noting that the goal of the series is to let people know that “there’s live music within our community, coming from the community, with people who give back to the community.”

For his part, Israel said he wants the concert to remind people of the power of music. His hope is “to show and to enable people to appreciate what happens when you put four people together and they’re playing as one in unity, what that feels like,” he said, “because there’s nothing that could ever duplicate that.”

drummer, jazz, max roach, Puddingstone Creatives, Sacred Jazz Music Series, Yoron Israel