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Jazz and the FBI: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Max Roach

The two FBI agents came to Max Roach’s Upper West Side Manhattan apartment with a lot of questions. They wanted to know how well the drummer knew certain people, if he was leading his band in concerts to benefit civil rights groups, what Roach thought about integration, and the kind of mail he got from black activists.

The agents would not have needed to do much digging to get some idea about the drummer’s politics. He had progressed relentlessly, first as a dominant bebop musician, then to his fruitful, tragically curtailed partnership with trumpeter Clifford Brown. By the time of the mild summer Monday in 1965, when the FBI agents came to his door, his career was well established as an outspoken leader of his own group.

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