We Insist! is an avant-garde jazz album and a vocal-instrumental suite on themes related to the Civil Rights Movement. It incorporates aspects of avant-garde trends during the 1960s, including the use of a pianoless ensemble, screaming vocals on «Protest», and moments of collective improvisation, such as at the end of «Tears from Johannesburg». Max Roach collaborated with lyricist Oscar Brown Jr. on the album and wrote songs that played variations on the theme of the struggle for African Americans to achieve equality in the United States. Abbey Lincoln, a frequent collaborator and subsequent wife of Roach’s, performed vocals on the album. While Brown’s lyrics were verbal, Lincoln sang worldess vocals on her parts.
Brown and Roach began collaborating in 1959 on a longer piece that they planned to perform at the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963. However, the urgency of civil rights issues steered them towards a new project in 1960, the album that would become the Freedom Now Suite. This urgency was sparked by the Greensboro sit-ins at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the rapidly spreading momentum of the civil rights movement aided by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
During the composition of the album, Roach lived in New York and Brown in Chicago, and Brown recalls that «we did it on the road kind of; we really wrote it by telephone.» From this came tensions between the two composers about the political content of the article and especially about how the album should end. The pair continued arguing throughout the composition, and eventually Brown backed out. Monson writes that «Brown did not know about the Freedom Now Suite recording until he received a postcard from Nat Hentoff requesting biographical material to be included in the liner notes to the album. Brown was disappointed that the music from their collaboration had been rearranged without his knowledge to serve Max Roach’s political vision.» Specifically, Brown did not like the screaming section of «Protest» in the track «Triptych.» Although both Brown and Roach agreed on issues of social justice, they disagreed on the vehicles with which to express this.
«During the same period, there was also increasing press coverage of the emerging, newly independent nations of Africa. Negro students in the south had been particularly aware of the impetus to their own campaigns for freedom given by the African examples because of the presence of African students on their campuses.
A pioneer of the bebop style, drummer Max Roach spent decades creating innovative jazz.
“You can’t write the same book twice. Though I’ve been in historic musical situations, I can’t go back and do that again. And though I run into artistic crises, they keep my life interesting.”
Max Roach was born on January 10, 1924, in New Land, North Carolina. He was raised in Brooklyn and studied at the Manhattan School of Music. One of the great jazz drummers and a pioneer of bebop, he worked with Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown. Roach was also a composer and a professor of music at the University of Massachusetts. He died in New York City in 2007.
Maxwell Lemuel Roach, generally known as Max Roach, was born on January 10, 1924, in New Land, North Carolina. He was raised in Brooklyn and played in gospel groups as a child. Though he started on the piano, Roach found his instrument when he began playing the drums at age 10.
Growing up in New York City exposed Roach to an exuberant jazz scene. In 1940, 16-year-old Roach filled in with Duke Ellington’s orchestra. During the 1940s, he played with jazz greats like Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Benny Carter and Stan Getz. Roach further developed his skills by studying at the Manhattan School of Music.
Roach joined with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and others to help bebop—a form of jazz that featured more intense rhythms and sophisticated musicality—come into being. He soon gained a reputation as a virtuoso bebop drummer, one who could enhance a song with his musical choices. From 1947 to 1949, Roach was part of Parker’s trailblazing quintet.
Roach’s drumming could be heard on many recordings, starting with his debut with Hawkins in 1943. His other albums include Woody ‘n’ You (1944)—considered one of the first bebop records—and Davis’s Birth of the Cool sessions in 1949-50. In 1952, Roach co-founded Debut Records with Charles Mingus. The label released a recording of a seminal jazz concert held at Massey Hall in 1953, where Roach performed with Mingus, Parker, Gillespie and Bud Powell.