- NAME: Max Roach
- OCCUPATION: Educator, Civil Rights Activist, Songwriter, Drummer
- BIRTH DATE: January 10, 1924
- DEATH DATE: August 16, 2007
- Did You Know?: Max Roach had a cameo in the film Carmen Jones.
- EDUCATION: Manhattan School of Music
- PLACE OF BIRTH: New Land, North Carolina
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- AKA: Maxwell Roach
- AKA: Max Roach
- Full Name: Maxwell Lemuel Roach
Best Known For
A pioneer of the bebop style, drummer Max Roach spent decades creating innovative jazz.
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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,
"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."
"When I was young in New York, we worked seven days a week, around the clock. We'd play downtown from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Then we'd pack our gear and go uptown to an after-hours club from 4 a.m. until 9 a.m. During the day, there were house-rent parties where you could see [pianist] Art Tatum and [drummer] Sid Catlett. That was our teaching. It was the most marvelous way to learn."
"The world of organized sound is a boundless palette."
"Max Roach for me was probably one of the most melodic drummers on the planet. I remember when I would listen to his group with Clifford Brown and he would take a drum solo, the first thing I would think of was, wow, he's not just banging on the drums. He's not just playing the latest hip or the hippest poly-rhythmic phrase. He's actually playing melodies."
"Max was the leading delineator of that music (bebop). He was one of the originators of the style, like Charlie Parker was the style on the alto saxophone."
"Why I became a comedian is because of Max Roach. I wanted to be a drummer."
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.
In 1954, Roach and Clifford Brown formed a quintet that became one of the most highly regarded groups in modern jazz. Unfortunately, their collaboration ended when Brown and another member of the group were killed in a 1956 car accident. The loss was a depressing blow for Roach; he began drinking heavily, but eventually sought professional help to regain his footing. He also continued creating music, taking on projects with Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins.
With We Insist! Freedom Now Suite (1960), Roach used music to address the need for racial equality. Despite the risks that taking an outspoken political stance posed to his career, Roach continued to support the Civil Rights Movement. He later created a drum accompaniment for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
In 1972, Roach was named as a professor of music at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. His career accomplishments were further recognized when Roach was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1982, and when he was selected as a 1984 Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.
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With its roots in the blues, jazz has been referred to as America's classical music, yet has also become a major global phenomenon, branching off into a variety of forms. Earlier pioneers like Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton paved the way for the swinging big-band sounds of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. In contrast, contemporaries Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk developed bebop, with its speedy, dissonant harmonies and improvisations. And Miles Davis heralded the birth of cool jazz, modal jazz and fusion at different points in his career. Famous jazz instrumentalists have tended to be male, yet women have been at the forefront of the genre when it comes to vocalization, from the brassy blues of Bessie Smith to the haunting eclecticism of Nina Simone.
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