Maxwell Lemuel "Max" Roach (January 10, 1924 – August 16, 2007) was an American jazz percussionist, drummer, and composer.
A pioneer of bebop, Roach went on to work in many other styles of music, and is generally considered alongside the most important drummers in history. He worked with many famous jazz musicians, including Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown.
Roach also led his own groups, and made numerous musical statements relating to the civil rights movement of African Americans.
Roach was born in the Township of Newland, Pasquotank County, North Carolina, which borders the southern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp, to Alphonse and Cressie Roach. Many confuse this with Newland Town in Avery County. Although Roach's birth certificate lists his date of birth as January 10, 1924, Roach has been quoted by Phil Schaap as having stated that his family believed he was born on January 8, 1925. Roach's family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York when he was 4 years old. He grew up in a musical home, his mother being a gospel singer. He started to play bugle in parade orchestras at a young age. At the age of 10, he was already playing drums in some gospel bands. As an eighteen year-old fresh out of Boys' High School in Brooklyn, (1942) he was called to fill in for Sonny Greer, and play with the Duke Ellington Orchestra performing at the Paramount Theater.
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).
Roach's most significant innovations came in the 1940s, when he and jazz drummer Kenny Clarke devised a new concept of musical time. By playing the beat-by-beat pulse of standard 4/4 time on the "ride" cymbal instead of on the thudding bass drum, Roach and Clarke developed a flexible, flowing rhythmic pattern that allowed soloists to play freely. The new approach also left space for the drummer to insert dramatic accents on the snare drum, "crash" cymbal and other components of the trap set.
By matching his rhythmic attack with a tune's melody, Roach brought a newfound subtlety of expression to his instrument. He often shifted the dynamic emphasis from one part of his drum kit to another within a single phrase, creating a sense of tonal color and rhythmic surprise. The idea was to shatter musical conventions and take full advantage of the drummer's unique position. "In no other society", Roach once observed, "do they have one person play with all four limbs."
While that approach is common today, when Clarke and Roach introduced the new style in the 1940s it was a revolutionary musical advance. "When Max Roach's first records with Charlie Parker were released by Savoy in 1945," jazz historian Burt Korall wrote in the Oxford Companion to Jazz, "drummers experienced awe and puzzlement and even fear." One of those awed drummers, Stan Levey, summed up Roach's importance: "I came to realize that, because of him, drumming no longer was just time, it was music.
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 November 1945 session, a turning point in recorded jazz.
Roach studied classical percussion at the Manhattan School of Music from 1950–53, working toward a Bachelor of Music degree (the School was to award him an Honorary Doctorate in 1990).
In 1952, Roach co-founded Debut Records with bassist Charles Mingus. This label released a record of a May 15, 1953 concert, billed as 'the greatest concert ever', which came to be known as Jazz at Massey Hall, featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Mingus and Roach. Also released on this label was the groundbreaking bass-and-drum free improvisation, Percussion Discussion.
In 1954, he formed a quintet featuring trumpeter Clifford Brown, tenor saxophonist Harold Land, pianist Richie Powell (brother of Bud Powell), and bassist George Morrow, though Land left the following year and Sonny Rollins soon replaced him. The group was a prime example of the hard bop style also played by Art Blakey and Horace Silver. Tragically, this group was to be short-lived; Brown and Powell were killed in a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in June 1956. The first album Roach recorded after their deaths was Max Roach + 4. After Brown and Powell's deaths, Roach continued leading a similarly configured group, with Kenny Dorham (and later the short-lived Booker Little) on trumpet, George Coleman on tenor and pianist Ray Bryant. Roach expanded the standard form of hard-bop using 3/4 waltz rhythms and modality in 1957 with his album Jazz in 3/4 time. During this period, Roach recorded a series of other albums for the EmArcy label featuring the brothers Stanley and Tommy Turrentine.
In 1955, he was the drummer for vocalist Dinah Washington at several live appearances and recordings. Appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival with her in 1958 which was filmed and the 1954 live studio audience recording of Dinah Jams, considered to be one of the best and most overlooked vocal jazz albums of its genre.
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 hundredth anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Using his musical abilities to comment on the African-American experience would be a significant part of his career. Unfortunately, Roach suffered from being blacklisted by the American recording industry for a period in the 1960s. Roach though did manage to record the Money Jungle album with Mingus and Duke Ellington in 1962. This is generally regarded as one of the very finest trio albums ever made.
In 1966, with his album Drums Unlimited (which includes several tracks that are entirely drums solos) he demonstrated that drums can be a solo instrument able to play theme, variations, rhythmically cohesive phrases. He described his approach to music as "the creation of organized sound.
During the 1970s, Roach formed a musical organization—"M'Boom"—a percussion orchestra. Each member of this unit composed for it and performed on many percussion instruments. Personnel included Fred King, Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Freddie Waits, Roy Brooks, Omar Clay, Ray Mantilla, Francisco Mora, and Eli Fountain.
In the early 1980s, he began presenting entire concerts solo, proving that this multi-percussion instrument could fulfill the demands of solo performance and be entirely satisfying to an audience. He created memorable compositions in these solo concerts; a solo record was released by Bay State, a Japanese label, just about impossible to obtain. One of these solo concerts is available on video, which also includes a filming of a recording date for "Chattahoochee Red," featuring his working quartet, Odean Pope, Cecil Bridgewater and Calvin Hill.
He embarked on a series of duet recordings. Departing from the style of presentation he was best known for, most of the music on these recordings is free improvisation, created with the avant-garde musicians Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Abdullah Ibrahim and Connie Crothers. He created duets with other performers: a recorded duet with the oration by Martin Luther King, "I Have a Dream"; a duet with video artist Kit Fitzgerald, who improvised video imagery while Roach spontaneously created the music; a classic duet with his life-long friend and associate Dizzy Gillespie; a duet concert recording with Mal Waldron.
He wrote music for theater, such as plays written by Sam Shepard, presented at La Mama E.T.C. in New York City.
He found new contexts for presentation, creating unique musical ensembles. One of these groups was "The Double Quartet." It featured his regular performing quartet, with personnel as above, except Tyrone Brown replacing Hill; this quartet joined with "The Uptown String Quartet," led by his daughter Maxine Roach, featuring Diane Monroe, Lesa Terry and Eileen Folson.
Another ensemble was the "So What Brass Quintet," a group comprising five brass instrumentalists and Roach, no chordal instrument, no bass player. Much of the performance consisted of drums and horn duets. The ensemble consisted of two trumpets, trombone, French horn and tuba. Musicians included Cecil Bridgewater, Frank Gordon, Eddie Henderson, Rod McGaha, Steve Turre, Delfeayo Marsalis, Robert Stewart, Tony Underwood, Marshall Sealy, Mark Taylor and Dennis Jeter.
Roach presented his music with orchestras and gospel choruses. He performed a concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He wrote for and performed with the Walter White gospel choir and the John Motley Singers. Roach performed with dancers: the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Dianne McIntyre Dance Company, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.
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.
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 forms of musical expression and presentation. Though he ventured into new territory during a lifetime of innovation, he kept his contact with his musical point of origin. He performed with the Beijing Trio, with pianist Jon Jang and erhu player Jeibing Chen. His last recording, Friendship, was with trumpet master Clark Terry, the two long-standing friends in duet and quartet. His last performance was at the 50th anniversary celebration of the original Massey Hall concert, in Toronto, where he performed solo on the hi-hat.
In 1994, Roach also appeared on Rush drummer Neil Peart's Burning For Buddy performing "The Drum Also Waltzes", Part 1 and 2 on Volume 1 of the Volume 2 series during the 1994 All-Star recording sessions.
Max Roach died in the early morning on August 16, 2007 in Manhattan. He was survived by five children: sons Daryl and Raoul, and daughters Maxine, Ayo and Dara. Over 1,900 people attended his funeral at Riverside Church in Manhattan, New York City on August 24, 2007. Max Roach was interred at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY.
In a funeral tribute to the Roach, then-Lieutenant Governor of New York David Paterson compared the musician's courage to that of Paul Robeson, Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X, saying that "No one ever wrote a bad thing about Max Roach's music or his aura until 1960, when he and Charlie Mingus protested the practices of the Newport Jazz Festival.
Baterista y compositor estadounidense de jazz, nacido el 10 de enero de 1925 en New Land (Carolina del Sur) y fallecido en Nueva York el 16 de agosto de 2007. Formó parte del histórico quinteto de Charlie Parker y Dizzy Gillespie.
Interesado por el jazz desde muy temprana edad, y fruto de la fascinación que le produce la escucha de big bands y una orquesta sinfónica que actuaba los domingos en una sala próxima a su casa, toma la determinación de matricularse en el Manhattan Conservatory of Music, del que en 1942 se diploma en percusión.
A los dieciséis años sustituye a Sonny Greer en un concierto de la orquesta de Duke Ellington, proeza que repite bajo circunstancias similares en la orquesta de Count Basie.
A partir de 1942 trabaja en los clubes de la Calle 52, donde en esos momentos estaba surgiendo el bebop. Influido por Kenny Clarke, se convierte muy pronto en uno de los bateristas preferidos de Charlie Parker y Dizzy Gillespie, ambos líderes del movimiento bebop.
En 1944, contratado por Gillespie, quien forma un quinteto, graba por primera vez con esta formación, ampliada por Coleman Hawkins.
De regreso a Nueva York, interviene en grabaciones de Parker que pronto serán históricas.
En otoño de 1945 graba los famosísimos "Billie´s Bounce" y "Now´s The Time", con Parker y Gillespie, a quien acaba de unirse el joven Miles Davis. Justamente es con Davis, en enero de 1949, que interviene en las sesiones que marcarían el nacimiento del jazz cool. A partir de 1950 graba de nuevo junto a Parker y en 1952, junto a Thelonious Monk. Ese mismo año crea con Charles Mingus una pequeña compañía discográfica, la cual en mayo de 1953 edita la grabación del famosos concierto de Toronto que reúne a Parker, Gillespie, Bud Powell, Mingus y Roach.
En mayo de 1954, codirige con Clifford Brown, un quinteto de hard bop que se impone rápidamente como prototipo de este estílo. Por este grupo pasan músicos como: Harold Land, Sonny Rollins, Richie Powell, Teddy Edwards y luego tras la muerte de Clifford Brown en 1956, le reemplaza por Kenny Dorham. Continua colaborando con otros músicos como Mingus, Sonny Rollins, T. Monk. En julio de 1958 reemplaza a Dorham por el joven trompetista Booker Little.
Muy sensibilizado con la lucha de los negros, intensificadas a lo largo de ese mismo período, introduce en su arte una dimensión deliberadamente política y abre las puertas a la voz de Abbey Lincoln, quien, más tarde, se convertiría en su esposa. En octubre de 1961, la muerte de Booker Little, le priva, nuevamente, de un compañero excepcional.
En 1985, participa junto a otros músicos, del concierto-manifiesto en favor de la liberación del líder sudafricano Nelson Mandela.
"Cualquiera puede adquirir la técnica, pero el verdadero reto es traer a este mundo un signo de individualidad y de identificación" (Max Roach, Cuadernos de Jazz julio/agosto de 1999)