inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #0 of 41: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Sun 15 Oct 23 06:04
Ben Shapiro is a documentary maker working in film and television,
radio and podcasts. He's worked in radio for over 30 years, and has
worked as a documentary cinematographer, producer, and director. 
His films have screened at SXSW, Lincoln Center, MOMA, as a panelist
at the Sundance Film Festival, and in international theatrical
release and broadcast. He co-directed his latest film, "Max Roach -
The Drum Also Waltzes," with Sam Pollard. He's also an adjunct
professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Gary Lambert is leading the discussion. Gary has spent his entire
life in and around the music business. He worked in a variety of
roles for eight years for Bill Graham Presents, wrote the Grateful
Dead's official newsletter for 12 years, co-hosted a radio show on
KPFA-FM with bassist Phil Lesh from 1987 to 1995, and helped the
Dead connect with such musical icons as Babatunde Olatunji and
Ornette Coleman. He signed on with SiriusXM's Grateful Dead Channel,
and more recently became a co-host of's popular series of
"Dead Air" interviews during video livestreams of Dead & Company

As mentioned above, Ben was co-director/producer (with Sam Pollard)
of "Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes,: currently stremaing as part
of PBS' American Masters series:
26469/> He also directed and was cinematographer of the documentary "Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters," which follows the photographer over a decade as he creates his images. 

As cinematographer and producer, he's created projects for PBS
(American Masters, PBS Arts, EGG), National Geographic, The Sundance
Channel, and independent filmmakers including Katy Chevigny, Barbara
Kopple, the feature "Paul Goodman Changed my Life," among others. He
also works in Radio. His radio stories have been featured on such
programs as NPR's All Things Considered and Morning Edition. He has
been a member of Radio Diaries since the series began in 1996, as an
editor, mix engineer, and producer. He has collaborated on projects
with many producers including American Radioworks, The Kitchen
Sisters, WNYC and the BBC.
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #1 of 41: Gary Lambert (almanac) Mon 16 Oct 23 16:17

Thank you, Jon, and to all of the inkwell.vue gang for this opportunity.

And hi, Ben!

I've been eagerly anticipating this conversation for many reasons. I've
been a lifelong fan and student of the art and craft of filmmaking, with
documentaries occupying a prominent place among my interests. I'm
something of a musical omnivore, but my greatest passion is for the
genre that I here hesitate to call "Jazz" - as it was a term that Max
Roach himself vehemently rejected, saying in the film we're about to
discuss that he preferred to characterize his art form simply as
"African American Instrumental Music" (although we'll try to cut some
slack to any participants in the discussion who might let the J-word
slip out). And finally, I look forward to this because Max Roach has
long been a musical hero, not just for his career-long commitment to
creative growth and risk, but his understanding of the importance of art
as an essential component in the struggle for human rights and societal

Before we get to the specifics of the film itself, though, I thought it
would be helpful to get a bit into the origin story - of the project
itself and your own beginnings as a filmmaker. So here are a few
questions to get things started:

1. Could you tell us a bit about how you gravitated toward film as a
profession, and documentary filmmaking in particular? Were there films
or documentarians in particular who inspired you to take that path?

2. I'd like to know something about the circumstances that brought you
and your co-director Sam Pollard together. Near the top of the film, we
learn two things: that Mr. Pollard had been pursuing a vision of making
a Max Roach documentary since the 1980s and had begun compiling
interviews and related materials toward that end; and that you,
independently, had been recording audio interviews with Max - not in
your capacity as a filmmaker, but because you are yourself a drummer and
wanted to learn about his musical history, theories and philosophy. And
so you each had these separate, enormously valuable bodies of
information, just waiting to be merged. Tell us a little about how that
came about and the collaboration was launched in earnest.
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #2 of 41: Benjamin Shapiro (bshapiro) Tue 17 Oct 23 07:36
Hi Jon, really looking forward to the chat here!

As a kid I was always interested in movies and was playing with
movie cameras  and making little documentaries—I just enjoyed and
was fascinated by the whole process. After college I put filmmaking
aside for a while and worked in public radio, at NPR and then as an
independent producer. I realized I could get to meet my idols (like
Max Roach) and one of the first radio projects I did was a series
was about filmmakers, including two that inspired me at the time:
Julia Reichert, and Les Blank, and I got to visit and spent a few
days with them. Then I started making short films for PBS and

I learned about Max Roach when I started taking drum lessons as a
teen, and realized how central he was to the whole business of
playing drums. In 1988 I pitched NPR a half-hour radio documentary
about Max, and over a couple days, in his apartment in New York,
basically got him to tell me his life story. In 1992 I did a
follow-up piece and another long audio interview. (These make up
most of Max’s audio voice-over heard in the film). I met Sam a bit
later when I was cinematographer on a couple of projects for him,
and we became friends—always chatting about music and film (Sam has
an encyclopedic knowledge of Film Noir)--and over the years he
always mentioned his unfinished Max Roach project, literally sitting
on his shelf. Around 2014 I finally got him to show me that, and I
suggested we collaborate and combine our assets and make a film
about Roach. Since I had the gear and could shoot, we started right
in and our first interview was Sonny Rollins.
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #3 of 41: Gary Lambert (almanac) Tue 17 Oct 23 08:12

I love that melding of your two passions!  Was there ever a point where
you found yourself at that figurative fork in the road - "drums or
documentaries?" - and felt compelled to choose? Or have you managed to
stick with your musical endeavors at least for pleasure?
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #4 of 41: Benjamin Shapiro (bshapiro) Tue 17 Oct 23 09:41
I never got nearly good enough, or really wanted to focus on it
enough, to be a pro drummer, tho I've enjoyed playing more or less
consistently for fun. The forks in the road for me have more often
been between what variety of media work, between radio and film say,
or different types of those. In recent chapters, as with the Max
Roach film, I've obviously been focusing on films (while keeping my
hands in Radio Diaries which has been a long-term thing--our current
series on Hart Island airing on All Things Considered).
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #5 of 41: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Tue 17 Oct 23 10:17
I really liked the documentary, especially how much of Max Roach's own voice
was part of it.

I'm curious about those two interviews you had with Roach in 1988 and 1992--
how much of those interviews ended up in the doc? How much focussed on
actual drum technnique? What did you decide to not use from those interviews
and why?
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #6 of 41: Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Tue 17 Oct 23 10:49
Thanks for the movie, Ben! It was a joy to learn so much about Max
Roach and his music, and especially to hear and see so much from him
and from all the people who shared their memories.

It seems that he went through dramatic personal, musical, and
political awakenings in about 1960. In your interviews did you hear
more about what drove this and what it felt like to him than what
the documentary says?
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #7 of 41: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 17 Oct 23 11:31
Just chiming in to say how much I enjoyed the documentary. I knew
_nothing_ about Max Roach, so there was a lot to absorb, from the
death of Clifford Brown through his political evolution.
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #8 of 41: Administrivia (jonl) Tue 17 Oct 23 11:37
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inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #9 of 41: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Tue 17 Oct 23 11:41
I was at the world premiere of the film at SXSW 2023 - we loved it,
and I was spreading the word: it was my favorite of the many films
we saw there this year. When you get a chance, I'd like to hear a
bit about the festival strategy for the film. And how much the
festival screenings contributed to the buzz about the film?
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #10 of 41: Benjamin Shapiro (bshapiro) Tue 17 Oct 23 15:59
Thanks for the positive feedbacks!

<pdl>  I would say by far the majority of the "voiceover" Max Roach
(i.e. Max talking not on camera) was from those two interviews. We
had about five hours of interview from those tapes (the bulk
recorded on trusty Sony TCD5 cassette recorder). I didn't talk that
much with him about drum technique per se--and we considered but
ultimately didn't do much of that in the film. In fact, the
interview I did with with Jeff "Tain" Watts included a bunch of talk
about drumming, and even a demo in his studio of what he saw as some
of Max's key approaches to the drums. In the end, though, its hard
to include technical things, or detail drumming approach things--the
drummers in the audience already know it, and the non-drummers, to
understand the significance, would require explanation and history
so that the film would turn into that (which, for one thing, tends
to stop the story). A little of it doesn't really accomplish
much--however there are some pertinent remarks about the music,
about the role of drums in bands, especially when the drummer is Max

<karish> that's an interesting question--about the 60s. He didn't
talk a lot about the forces then apart from what was starting to
happen around him, especially in the Civil Rights movement. I think
too one thing to remember is just how young he was when he started
out and became a force--the "famous" Town Hall concert with Dizzy,
Charlie Parker, Max was just 21! So he was in his late 30sish when
he recorded Freedom Now Suite and committed to political music. And
I don't think he was so insulated from all else going on then in
culture, popular music starting to transition to becoming political
for instance.

As far as fesitval strategy--we are working with a non-profit
distributor/consulting firm The Film Collaborative, which was set up
to work with independent filmmakers. Basically our overall mission
with this film is to get Max Roach's story and music out as widely
as possible, so we want the same for the film--any festival that
wants to play it--great. And that is turning out mostly well so far,
a good premiere at SXSW and lots of festivals since, in US and
Europe mostly. I would love to get more screenings in California,
nothing much in the Bar Area so far, for instance.
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #11 of 41: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Wed 18 Oct 23 07:15
It sounds like you could probably create at least a short with
footage about drum technique. Have you thought about mining the
available content to create a second documentary with a different
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #12 of 41: Benjamin Shapiro (bshapiro) Wed 18 Oct 23 12:31
Possibly, although who would really benefit from that kind of movie?
I'm not saying nobody would but its worth considering--do you make
it for drummers who kind of already know this stuff but just want to
hear Max Roach talk about it (and frankly we don't have much of him
talking technically about what he did, more about the experiences of
playing in some different contexts generally), OR do you make it try
to introduce ideas and the history of the instrument to audiences
who are new to these ideas?

Of course there is a fantastic and important film yet to be made
about drumming and its progression and emergence in the post WW2 era
to the 1970s, say, as the "modern" and mainly jazz-based approach to
the drum set was developed, told through interviews and demos with
Max, Tony Williams, Art Blakey, Jo Jones, Billy Higgins, Elvin
Jones, Paul Motion…but alas…
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #13 of 41: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Wed 18 Oct 23 12:41
I'm pretty sure most people don't understand all that the drummer
and other percussionists bring to a performance. And not knowing
that, also not getting how someone like Max Roach had so much
influence, how he could have a role in changing the rhythm of jazz.
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #14 of 41: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 19 Oct 23 11:43
If I got this wrong, please excuse--i've only watched the doc once so far.
But, it seems like there were a couple of points where the doc alluded to a
volatile temper or anger issues that Roach had. I think there was one point
when his son implied that and I think there was one, maybe a couple, of other
places. I thought the doc handled this well in that it addressed the issue
in a general way without dwelling in senationalism or poking at lurid

Did I understand that correctly?  Whenever I have seen him, here and in
other interviews and videos, he has alway seemed either gregarious or
emotionally well-modulated.

As a documentary filmmaker focussing on an important artist, how do you
approach addressing the complicated or messier aspects of that persons life?

Also, what was it like to work with the family in making the documentary?
Where all of Roach's children cooperative?
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #15 of 41: Gary Lambert (almanac) Thu 19 Oct 23 13:13

The impression of Max left by some of the interviewees - not just his
children, but his ex-wife/collaborator/muse Abbey Lincoln and some of
his musical associates - pretty closely matches what I had heard in
anecdotal accounts over a period of many years: that he was an intensely
mercurial personality, whose moods could change by the moment - as
underscored in the film by a dispute with Joe Chambers during an M'Boom
that escalated to a challenge to fight, with the two stepping outside
the studio - only to return together not long after, smiling and
laughing. There's an old story about Max having had a very negative
reaction to the arrival in New York of Ornette Coleman and his free jazz
revolutionaries from the West Coast. Max reportedly punched Ornette in
the face at the Five Spot, and later, finding our where Coleman lived,
stood outside his building at four in the morning and tried to call him
out to fight, western-gunslinger style, shouting "Ornette Coleman, come
out here so I can kick your ass!" (Not as widely reported, but as
Ornette himself told me: a short time later, Ornette saw Max coming
toward him at a club and braced himself for trouble, but this time Roach
said "Ornette Coleman, I love you!" and embraced him, and there was
never any more trouble between them. So, yeah... mercurial.

But I agree with <pdl> that you handled those delicate issues well -
were there discussions between you and Sam as to how to handle that
aspect of Max's story, and are you satisfied that you struck the right
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #16 of 41: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 19 Oct 23 13:45
ah--i completely forgot about that ornette coleman stuff, which I had heard
about before, elsewhere!  It seems like it's often told as humorous hi-jinks
which sort of minimizes the ugliness of it.
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #17 of 41: David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 19 Oct 23 14:20
All About Jazz comments on the film

inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #18 of 41: Benjamin Shapiro (bshapiro) Fri 20 Oct 23 06:02
I feel its a real challenge how to convey the significance of an
artist, or group of artists, to an audience not even roughly
familiar with the history of that art. For example, in Max Roach's
case, you could have someone on camera talk  about Kenny Clark, have
a still of him (there is no footage of him from those days), hear
some of Clark playing--but what would that mean to someone who had
never heard the name, who can't hear the particulars in Clark's
playing that Max then moved forward with (or in parallel to)? 

There's a moment in the film where Sonny Rollins compares Max and
Art Blakey's playing styles, and I always like it because of HOW he
makes a point about Max's playing being both able to both have the
power of African rhythmic approach AND a kind of precision and
technical skill beyond what Blakey and most other drummers had. And
partly I like it because of HOW he says it--how its explaining
something but also allows you to connect with Sonny Rollin's own
passion about all of these issue in the music--its not just
historical data, its a moment where the audience can connect with
Sonny Rollins' sensibility about drumming. This is Sonny Rollins!
One of the greatest musicians of our time and especially in that
genre, who knew Max intimately, and he's having a visceral moment
sharing his view about drumming...and we're going to cut to some
"jazz expert" so we can have them say "Kenny Clark was the other
primary bebop drumming pioneer"? No, my friend. The power and joy of
film is how it engages us with other humans and their personality
and interior lives and the force of their thoughts and feelings.
That is something nothing can do in the same way. Films do that
extraordinary thing. They are not so great at conveying raw info,
and in some cases, so be it.

Moving on to the issue of Max Roach's anger, this goes back in part
to my overall view of documentary-making about individuals: that it
is a key goal that you create the fullest, most multi-dimensional
portrait of the person that you can. In part simply because to do
otherwise is to knowingly diminish or even deny their humanity. As
my collaborator Sam Pollard often says, "People are complicated."
And this particular aspect of Max's personality came up repeatedly
of course, and not just that he could have a temper--it came up in
contexts related to his life and what he was experiencing. And that,
to me, is often what stories about people are about in some bigger
sense: how is it that, facing the twists and turns and extreme
challenges of life, that the individual takes the resources at hand
and grapples with all this. Tries to find solutions to dealing with
it all. Or fails to, on ocassion, as we all do. Or triumphs, over
the course of a lifetime, as Max Roach did.  And in telling this
saga, emotional responses of course play a big part in the
complicated equation of who we are and how we deal with each other
and make our way in the world--and, as Max Roach said to me, "how to
DO something with your life". The issue, then, in filmmaking is
finding a way to tell a full story of a super-complicated
human--within limits of content at hand and the medium, and 90
minutes of time (give or take). That is very much a process of
selection and juxtaposition of elements (not to launch into a whole
discourse about editing) and balance of story elements: too little
about Max's anger, say, and it is a blip in the overall. Too much
and it becomes simply a story about a man who was angry. So you look
for a balance, try lots of variations, and settle for what seems
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #19 of 41: Frako Loden (frako) Tue 24 Oct 23 13:34
Ben, what kind of division of labor did you have with co-director Sam
Pollard? And since you are both established directors, did you have any
differences of opinion regarding the shape or direction of the film?

I always wonder if it's easier or more difficult having two directors for a
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #20 of 41: Benjamin Shapiro (bshapiro) Wed 25 Oct 23 12:45
Good question. I coudlnt' have done this alone, on many levels I
think, just too big a job producing and directing something like
this. The reality is making this kind of film, in the early stages
especially there is no "staff" apart from the two of us.

Since I am a cameraperson with gear, I did all the shooting and
sound on the new interviews while Sam conducted the interviews and I
pitched in questions from behind the camera if something came to
mind. We developed thorough lists of questions for each interview
beforehand, but we'd of course deviated or followed up.

Big picture choices, like interview subjects or overall story points
and structure, we figured collaboratively. Before we did anything
were lots of breakfasts just talking, which we kinda did anyway
since we've been friends for years prior. Overall our vision for the
film overall was very collaborative and there really were no major
disagreements. I'd say either of us had veto over something if they
didn't like it, but that didn't happen a lot.

Most on-camera interviews with Max and the performance footage from
the 80s including the M'Boom footage, Sam shot back then on 16mm

We had a really good editor who did a solid cut, then I made a
couple fairly big changes and tons of little adjustments. All the
stuff at the open with Sam and my backstory with the origins of the
film, and the general intro, were late changes I cut. We both
watched and discussed and gave feedback through all. If we tried
something and agreed it worked well--then its settled.

Overall I was the primary day-to-day producer, dealing with most
staffing and logistics and legal and grant writing. The reality is,
working with Sam, he is a master filmmaker and in high demand and
busy tho always available and responsive. 

We also share a love of music and jazz, of course, as well as
classical Hollywood especially Film Noir and some westerns (this
morning after reviewing some promotion logistics, moved over into
recalling great and crazy bits of Howard Hawks' "Red River").
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #21 of 41: Scott Underwood (esau) Wed 25 Oct 23 12:49
"Say, that's a nice gun."
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #22 of 41: Frako Loden (frako) Wed 25 Oct 23 13:14
It sounds like you are both pretty easygoing and compatible. I was hoping
you'd recall some drama or tension! lol

For instance, was there anything that you thought should be de-emphasized or
stressed that Sam disagreed with you about? Or vice versa?
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #23 of 41: Benjamin Shapiro (bshapiro) Wed 25 Oct 23 13:50
I wouldn't say we're easy going exactly, we both care a lot and have
strong opinions, more that our vision was compatible...also I would
say that this is a labor of love for both, and was not easy to get
finished by any means, and when you're in the trenches of a project
for 5,6 years, if you get along at all then it does become a shared
mission I think.

I honestly can't recall disagreements about emphasis or focus of
story. Maybe that's because we had all those debates along the way,
while writing up/reviewing treatments (which I did that early on),
brainstorming and choosing the interviewees, going thru the archival
materials and seeing what's strongest etc...all that leads in
certain directions and settles lots of questions about structure and
emphasis as you go.
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #24 of 41: Inkwell Co-Host (jonl) Wed 25 Oct 23 15:31
Can you think of anything you left out of the film that, in
retrospect, you wish you'd included?
inkwell.vue.532 : Ben Shapiro: The Drum Also Waltzes
permalink #25 of 41: Benjamin Shapiro (bshapiro) Thu 26 Oct 23 11:14
It's funny but I find after finishing a film, it just is *that*
thing. And all the choices and circumstances that lead to how it
ended up--everything from photos we stumbled across to which
composer we chose to the background of an interview--are hard to
isolate from the bigger process. Godard famously said that all
feature films are documentaries about their production. Well you
might say all the choices you make in a documentary are product of
that time and place in a years-long journey.

Having said that, Max Roach had an amazingly busy and complicated
life, and there are many things he did that we didn't include but we
thought of, such as his founding of perhaps the first artist-owned
label Debut Records with Charles Mingus in the 1950s. Or, after his
brilliant work with Clifford Brown, after Brownie's terrible death,
Max started working with another prodigious and similarly very young
trumpet player Booker Little--who then passed at just 23. And I
would have really liked to have been more about the lineage of
drummers that Max emerged from, and specific things he pioneered on
the drum set--but as I mentioned, that isn't where we decided to
focus the film (and it just seemed a big sidebar when we put some of
it in).

Basically...there needs to be a thorough, in depth biography written
about Max Roach.


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