- "Drum Also Waltzes" (Roach)
- "Now's the Time" (Parker)
- "Billy the Kid" (Roach)
- "I'll Remember Clifford" (Golson)
- "The Smoke that Thunders" (Roach)
- "Joy Spring" (Hendricks, Brown)
- "Giant Steps" (Coltrane)
- "All the Things You Are" (Hammerstein)
Stringer / Getty Images
Stringer / Getty Images
Max Roach was born Jan. 10, 1924, on the outskirts of North Carolina's Great Dismal Swamp in the township of Newland. His family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn when Roach was 4 years old. At his local church, Roach took piano lessons and got involved with the choir, but he found his musical voice when he picked up a snare drum for the first time. His father bought him a drum set when he was 10, and by the time he was in high school, Roach had picked up professional gigs backing gospel choirs and playing jazz in after-hours clubs.
In 1942, while working as house drummer at Monroe's Uptown House, Roach landed his first high-profile gig, filling in for drummer Sonny Greer in Duke Eillington's band at the Paramount Theater. Roach soon found himself in the company of young, dynamic players like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who were also frequent players at Monroe's. Roach became an important collaborator with Dizzy and Bird throughout the mid-1940s as the bebop sound took form. Throughout the '40s and '50s, Roach went on to work with Miles Davis (who replaced Gillespie in Parker's Quintet), Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, and Charles Mingus.
In 1954, after relocating to the West Coast, Roach got together with trumpeter Clifford Brown and formed the Brown-Roach Quintet, a "hard bop" quintet which, for many, represents a high point in the development of Roach's musical ideas. Following Brown's tragic death, Roach went on to work with alumni from the quintet — Harold Land and Sonny Rollins — in addition to stints with George Coleman, Kenny Dorham, and Stanley Turrentine.
In the late 1950s, Roach's music began to take on strong political tones, resulting in the legendary recording of his We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. With lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr., saxophone work by Coleman Hawkins, and vocals by Abbey Lincoln (whom Roach would later marry), the album introduced Roach as a spokesman for racial justice.
In his music, too, Roach began to pursue more adventurous avenues. He worked with avant-garde players like Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton, and he made inroads to percussion-centered music, developing extensive drum solos in his playing and forming the all-percussion group M'Broom. He also formed the Max Roach Double Quartet, which combined his basic jazz quartet (trumpet, saxophone, bass, and drums) with the Uptown String Quartet. Roach also began working with choreographers such as Alvin Ailey, as well as playwrights like Sam Shepard, with whom he shared an Obie Award.
Roach has received some of the highest honors in music, including the genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation, The French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and the Jazz Master Fellowship from the National Endowment For the Arts.
Roach died on Aug. 16, 2007, at the age of 83.
Originally recorded April 21, 1998. Originally broadcast Sept. 29, 1998.
Listen to the previous Piano Jazz.