Max Roach is a renowned American percussionist and composer. He was born as Maxwell Lemuel Roach on January 10, 1924 in New Land, North Carolina, but he began his extensive career at the age of ten when he began playing drums in Brooklyn, New York for gospel music groups. These gospel groups proved to contribute the most significant influence to his musical style. He also studied at the Manhattan School of Music.
At Monroe's Uptown House, a nightclub in Harlem, New York, Max Roach began working with a group of American jazz musicians (including pianist Thelonius Monk and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker) in 1942. These talented musicians were experimenting with a musical style that was to become known as bebop jazz, or bop. At the time, drummer Kenny Clarke was introducing stylistic innovations and was performing with many of the top bebop musicians. These innovations included utilizing the cymbals rather than the bass drum for the primary rhythmic pulse of the music. Roach was the first to fully realize the potential of these innovations and quickly developed his own style to become the leading drummer of the bop movement (early 1940s to mid-1950s). He played and recorded with most of the major jazz musicians of the period, including American tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and American trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. From 1947 to 1949 he was a member of Charlie Parker's historic bebop quintet. From 1954 to 1956 Roach led a jazz quintet with American trumpeter Clifford Brown. Through such albums as Study in Brown (1955) and At Basin Street (1956), the Brown/Roach Quintet came to exemplify the aggressive style of jazz known as hard bop.
Throughout the 1960s, the struggle for black racial equality rose to the forefront of societal awareness and Roach recorded a number of albums centering on these issues, including the album We Insist! Freedom Now Suite (1960). He also focused on the black-American cultural arts movement.
In 1970 he formed M' Boom Re: Percussion, a ten-member ensemble representing diverse percussion traditions from around the world. In addition to ensemble work, Roach has been a frequent solo percussion performer and has composed music for Broadway musicals, motion pictures, television, and symphony orchestras. He then went on to join the music faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1972.
In the early 1980s, Roach surprised his fans by performing in a hip hop concert, featuring the artist-rapper Fab Five Freddy and the New York Break Dancers. He expressed the insight that there was a strong kinship between the outpouring of expression of these young black artists and the art he had pursued all his life.
By the early 90s, Mr. Roach had reduced his teaching load and was again based in New York year-round, traveling to Amherst only for two residencies and a summer program each year.
He was still touring with his quartet as recently as 2000, and he also remained active as a composer.
In 2002 he wrote and performed the music for How to Draw a Bunny, a documentary about the artist Ray Johnson.
During all these years, while he ventured into new territory during a lifetime of innovation, he kept his contact with his musical point of origin. His last recording, "Friendship", was with trumpet master Clark Terry, the two long-standing friends in duet and quartet.
Max Roach performed with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Hank Mobley, Walter Davis, Franklin Skeete, Clifford Brown, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, George Coleman, Art Davis, Kenny Dorham, Ramsey Lewis, Billy Eckstine, George Morrow, Buddy Rich, Tommy Turrentine, Julian Priester, Coleman Hawkins, Mal Waldron, Eddie Kahn, Charlie Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Cecil Bridgewater, Freddie Waits, Tyrone Brown, Greg Jones, Abraham Shelton, Ben Webster, Tommy Potter, Curly Russell, J.J. Johnson, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Dorham, John Lewis, Roy Haynes, Charles Mingus, Al Haig, Coleman Hawkins, Percy Heath, Oscar Pettiford and many other artists.