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Learning to Solo In The Style Of Max Roach

Max Roach was an American jazz drummer and composer. He was born on January 10, 1924, in New Land, North Carolina. He was raised in Brooklyn and studied at the Manhattan School of Music. He worked with Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown, just to name a few. He’s one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time.

Max Roach alongside with Kenny Clarke are considered the fathers of bebop drumming language. They changed the swing era approach of spelling out the pulse with the bass drum and shifted the emphasis to the ride cymbal. As a result, a lighter, more flexible pulse was created. This shift revolutionized the drumming world forever, giving drummers more freedom to explore the possibilities of their drum sets and elevating the role of the drummer in the music. The drummer went from being just a timekeeper to becoming an important part in shaping the music through interaction and melodic playing.

Among the many contributions Max Roach brought to the music, his soloing skills were one of the most prominent ones. His the ability to play long solos with a definite storyline, well-organized motifs which made the solo sound more like a composition than an improvisation, was remarkable.

So let’s get to work:  

In this lesson, I’m going to analyze a classic Max solo, from the track Parisian Thoroughfare. This track can be found on the 1954 album, Clifford Brown & Max Roach. This record is a must for any jazz musicians. Max’s playing is brilliant and every solo is a class in melodic and motivic solo development. Here’s a video where you can listen to the solo and then I’ll play you my rendition at the end.

I chose this because it is a perfect example of a well-thought-out solo. The first thing to notice from this solo is the organization of the ideas. So first, let’s analyze the big picture, the entire solo as a whole.

One thing to notice is the use of 8th notes and triplets on the A sections. Then the B section is all 16th notes, creating a nice contrast from what is happening in the first two A sections.

That little detail on the B section shows Max’s compositional mind while playing, he is not only throwing licks around. His ideas and motifs have a purpose within the big picture.

After the B section, he goes back to a similar vibe as the first two A sections, which confirms that his ideas at the top of the form were not random.

The use of the different sections of the form to organized his motivic ideas in this solo is close to perfection.

All A sections have a distinctive vibe and they contrast the B section. The solo builds in a very logical and musical way. On paper and for the ear this solo makes so much sense.

Our next step in analyzing Max’s solo is to go deeper into the small motifs he develops in each section. The first thing we want to see is the placement of motifs. And here again, this solo has several brilliant examples of developing a motif by repeating it in a musical and interesting way.

Check measure number 3: Max plays this cool idea, which seems like nothing really important, but then he brings it back in the second A section and displaced it in a very interesting way.

Check bars 11-12:

And then he plays it again, now starting from the beat four on bar 13 into bar 14:

And if we keep going on the last A section on bar 30, he plays it again.

If you go back and listen to the solo now, you are going to realize how that little idea stands out everytime Max plays it.

It is remarkable how a little motif like this can give so much cohesiveness to entire solo. In this case, repetition and placement play an important role as devices to develop the motif.

Another thing that is worth mentioning, is the idea he starts both A sections with. Bars 1 and 9.

Bar 1:

And then Bar 9:

Those two bars are almost identical. The idea comes back to remind you: Here’s the A section. And the idea is basically paving the way for development from there. Yet another excellent example of organization and musical soloing.

Another short phrase that would be important to analyze is this little triple idea which starts on the upbeats.

This phrase appears all over the place in the solo in different forms; some longer than just 2 beats. Even though it can be considered another motif, I see this more as a connecting phrase. Max uses it as a device to connect the main motifs he is using in his solo. He fills up space between the ideas he really wants to convey.

For exercises to work on using connectors to glue together your main motifs, I would recommend you to go back to my lesson How to Develop Musical and Organized Drum Solos.

This solo is full of really nice vocabulary and trademark licks from Max Roach. Please go and learn it and break it down into small pieces so you can get a more in-depth view of Max’s soloing style.

Here is my rendition of the solo, hope you guys enjoy.

Also, don’t forget to check, How To Get The Most Out Of Your Drum Solo Transcriptions, for ideas on how to make your favorite lines from this solo your own.

Hope this lesson was helpful and gave you an insight of the style of Max Roach, and also on what to look for and analyze in a solo. Go and transcribe your favorite solos and analyze them, there is no better teacher than the legacy all the great jazz drummer left on records.

Remeber to follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook and drop a line in the comment section if you have any questions.

See you guys in the next one.

Diego Maldonado
Diego is a professional jazz drummer, composer, and educator. He is originally from Venezuela and currently living in New York City. He attended The Collective School of Music and The City College of New York where he earned, with honors, a Bachelor degree in Jazz Performance.Diego has become an active member of the exciting city’s jazz scene, both as a performer and educator, playing with artists such as Will Vinson, Doug Weiss, Kenny Werner, Tim Hagans, Mike Holober, Mimi Jones, Lukas Gabric, Josiah Boornazian, Antonio Mazzei, Brent Vaartstra, Coyote Anderson, among many others.Diego is an Agean Cymbals and Vater Percussion Artist.


  1. This is great! I’m doing a show based in 1950 (Charlotte’s Web) and figured this was around Max Roach’s era.

    I hope to dig into this solo, but already your content has been so helpful! Wish you the best in your endeavors.

  2. Fantastic content. I am so excited to have come across this website and your articles. Thank you so much for sharing this incredibly helpful information!


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