John Passmore is the Archives Manager at WNYC.
Host Steve Sullivan brings legendary jazz drummer Pete La Roca onto Around New York for an interview about a life and career in jazz.
Born in New York, LaRoca studied classical percussion at P.S. 164, played for the City College Orchestra, and eventually worked with jazz greats such as Sonny Rollins, Art Farmer, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, and John Coltrane. In 1960, he preceded Elvin Jones in Coltrane's first quartet, playing along with Steve Kuhn and Billy Higgins. In 1965, LaRoca released Basra on Blue Note Records. It was one of two albums La Roca recorded at the height of his career. Considered a classic of the genre, Basra's title track is a ruminative 10 minute piece whose musical themes revolve around a single chord.
After the release of Basra and its follow up, Bliss!, LaRoca hit a low point in his career. Financial difficulties forced him to become a cab driver and then, later, to law school. At the time of this interview, he was still a practicing lawyer.
Sullivan and LaRoca talk a little bit about the demise of the awareness of jazz in popular culture in the 1960s. LaRoca blames the increasing focus of the record industry on rock and roll. "I think the Beatles came along and the world's attention turned to rock and roll," LaRoca says. "More than it had with Bill Haley and Elvis Presley who came before." To La Roca, the ghetto riots of the 1960s were also partly to blame for the waning interest in jazz culture. Many popular clubs on the "chitlin' circuit", a name given to jazz venues up and down the east coast, went out of business after the riots. Sullivan and LaRoca acknowledge that the awareness of jazz that was happening in the 1950s and early 1960s "just isn't around anymore."