Drummer Max Roach broke new ground in jazz
Max Roach was born on this date in 1924. He was an African American bebop/hard bop percussionist, drummer, and composer.
Maxwell Lemuel Roach was born in Newland, N.C., to Alphonse and Cressie Roach. His family moved to Brooklyn, when he was 4 years old. A player piano left by the previous NY tenants gave Roach his musical introduction and he started to play bugle in parade orchestras at a young age. His mother was a gospel singer, which led to Roach, at 10, to play drums in some gospel bands. Roach performed his first big-time gig in New York City at the age of 16, substituting for Sonny Greer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
In 1942, Roach started to go out in the jazz clubs of the 52nd Street and at 78th Street & Broadway for Georgie Jay's Taproom (playing with schoolmate Cecil Payne). He was one of the first drummers (along with Kenny Clarke) to play in the bebop style, and performed in bands led by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, and Miles Davis. Roach played on many of Parker's most important records, including the Savoy 1945 session. He continued to play as a freelancer while studying composition at the Manhattan School of Music, where he graduated in 1952.
He had two children, Daryl and Maxine, from his first marriage with Mildred Roach. In 1954, he met singer Barbara Jai (Johnson) and had another son, Raoul Jordu. In 1960, he composed the “We Insist! - Freedom Now” suite with lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr., after being invited to contribute to commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Using his musical abilities to comment on the African-American experience was a significant part of his career. Because of this, Roach was blacklisted by the American recording industry for a period in the 1960s.
Roach was also married to the singer Abbey Lincoln, who had performed on several of Roach's albums. Twin daughters, Ayodele and Dara Rasheeda, were later born to Roach and his third wife, Janus Adams Roach. In 1966, with his album "Drums Unlimited,” he proved that drums can be a solo instrument able to play theme, variations, and rhythmically cohesive phrases. Another important record Roach made is the classic “Money Jungle,” 1962, with Charley Mingus and Duke Ellington.
During the 1970s, Roach formed a unique musical organization, "M'Boom," a percussion orchestra. Each member of this unit composed and performed on many percussion instruments. Members included Fred King, Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Freddie Waits, Roy Brooks, Omar Clay, Ray Mantilla, Francisco Mora, and Eli Fountain.
In 1972, he joined the faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Not content to expand on the musical territory he had already become known for, Roach spent the decades of the 1980s and 1990s continually finding new ways to express his musical expression and presentation. In the early 1980s, he began presenting solo concerts, proving that this multi-percussion instrument, in the hands of such a great master, could fulfill the demands of solo performance and be entirely satisfying to an audience. He created memorable compositions in these concerts. A solo record was released by Bay State, a Japanese label. One of these solo concerts also includes a filming of a recording date for "Chattahoochee Red," featuring his working quartet with Odean Pope, Cecil Bridgewater, and Calvin Hill.
In the early 2000s, Roach became less active owing to the onset of hydrocephalus-related complications. Renowned all throughout his performing life, Roach won many honors. Some of them include a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, cited as a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, twice awarded the French Grand Prix du Disque, elected to the International Percussive Art Society's Hall of Fame, and the Downbeat Magazine Hall of Fame.
He was awarded the Harvard Jazz Master, given eight honorary doctorate degrees, including degrees awarded by the University of Bologna, Italy, and Columbia University. He worked with many of the greatest jazz musicians in the world. He is widely considered one of the most important drummers in the history of jazz. Max Roach died on August 16, 2007 at his home.
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