Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(Max Lenard Roach, b 10 January 1924, Newland Township, Pasquotank County, NC; d 16 August 2007, NYC) Drummer, composer, leader. He said that by family tradition his birthday was January 8, though official records say the 10th. He grew up in NYC, was given a drum kit at age twelve and became one of the giants of modern jazz.

He worked with Charlie Parker as a teenager at Clarke Monroe's Uptown House, deeply influenced by Kenny Clarke at Minton's; depped briefly with Duke Ellington, replaced George Russell in Benny Carter's band and recorded with Coleman Hawkins, all in the mid-1940s; he was soon a key member of the bop movement, his legato rhythmic feeling perhaps the most widely influential of all. Worked and recorded with Miles Davis, many others; to Paris with Parker '49, recorded there with others including Kenny Dorham; to Europe again with JATP '52, at Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse '54; soon co-led a quintet with Clifford Brown, becoming the most popular jazz combo in the country when Brown and pianist Richie Powell (Bud's brother) were killed in a car crash (for recordings see Brown entry). Carried on with Dorham, Sonny Rollins (Max Roach + 4 '56, Jazz In 3/4 Time '57 on EmArcy); with Lighthouse All Stars Drummin' The Blues on Liberty, quartet Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker '57-8 later on Verve, quintet Max '58 on Argo adding Ramsey Lewis (later in set Percussion Discussion on Chess with an LP by Art Blakey, that title also used for a duo track on a Charles Mingus LP '55: he was a partner in Mingus's Debut label, played at the famous Massey Hall concert '53 with Mingus, Parker, Gillespie, Bud Powell).

Changing personnel in Roach's combo included George Coleman, Booker Little, Julian Priester on trombone: On The Chicago Scene and At Newport Jazz Festival, Max Roach with the Boston Percussion Ensemble at Lenox Music Inn (he taught at Lenox MA School of Jazz each summer), all '58 originally on EmArcy; Deeds, Not Words on Riverside; Sessions and Live on Calliope, all '58. The Many Sides Of Max Roach on Mercury, Award-Winning Drummer on Time/Bainbridge '59; Quiet As It's Kept and Parisian Sketches on Mercury, Drum Conversation on Enja, then one of his best-known records: Freedom Now Suite on Candid (aka We Insist -- Freedom NMoon-Faced Andow!; made into an award-winning film by Gianni Amici '66), followed by Moon Faced And Starry-Eyed on Mercury, all '60, the last two with singer Abbey Lincoln (they were married '62-70). Percussion Bitter Suite and It's Time '60-61 on Impulse, Max Roach -- Again once on Affinity (live from Paris '60, c'62-3) were all with Lincoln.

Speak, Brother, Speak on Fantasy '62 was followed by duo The Legendary Hasaan '64 on Atlantic, with pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali (b 6 May 1931, Philadelphia: well-known locally, encouraged by Elmo Hope when he was young, recorded his own tunes with Roach in NYC including 'Hope So Elmo', with Art Davis on bass on some tracks). (Roach always had an affinity for maverick pianists, who created daring space for a drummer; he also recorded with Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols.) Sextet Drums Unlimited '65-6 on Atlantic included solo 'For Big Sid', title track; Sounds As A Roach '68 on Lotus made in Oslo with Lincoln and Steve Lacy. Members Don't Git Weary '68 on Atlantic with quintet and Andy Bey vocals; Lift Every Voice And Sing '71 with 22-voice J. C. White Singers on Atlantic, dedicated to Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers (civil-rights lawyer/activist murdered in Mississippi), Patrice Lumumba (murdered in Africa) etc; also performed at Newport that year. A quartet with Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet made Live In Tokyo on Denon, The Lodestar on Horo in Rome, Live In Amsterdam on Baystate, all '77; Confirmation '78 in Paris on Fluid, Pictures In A Frame '79 in Milan on Soul Note, Chattahoochie Red '81 in NYC on CBS, In The Light '82 and Scott Free '84 on Soul Note in Milan, and with added string quartet Live At Vielharmonie Munich '83, Easy Winners '85, Survivors '84, Bright Moments '87, all with strings, all on Soul Note, the last three octets called 'double quartet'. Long As You're Living on Enja was a quintet with the Turrentines. Roach Solos '77 on Baystate; duos with Archie Shepp: Force -- Sweet Mao -- Suid Afrika '76 in Paris on French Uniteledis, The Long March '79 at Willisau on hat Hut; with Anthony Braxton: Birth And Rebirth '78 in Milan on Soul Note, One In Two -- Two In One at Willisau on two-disc hat Hut; with Cecil Taylor: Historic Concerts duo '79 on Soul Note, live in NYC. Also Rich Versus Roach '59, a battle of the bands on Mercury; trio with Sonny Clark, George Duvivier on Bainbridge; duo in live concert Paris 1989 with Dizzy Gillespie, etc. He also recorded with percussion ensemble M'Boom: Re: Percussion '73 on Baystate, M'Boom '79 on Columbia and Collage '84 on Soul Note, remarkably consistent personnel including Ray Mantilla (b 22 June 1934, d 21 March 2020), Joe Chambers, Freddie Waits, up to six more on marimba, xylophone, tympani, woodblocks, orchestral bells, gongs, etc; then Live At S.O.B.'s New York '92 on Bluemoon with a new lineup. He taught at Yale, other schools; was Professor of Music at U of MA at Amherst; more recent recordings included To The Max! '91 on Bluemoon, The New Orchestra Of Boston And The So What Brass Quintet '96 on Blue Note is a jazz/classical crossover that doesn't quite come together. Among his other work have been collaborations with director George Ferencz, including music for Shepardsets, a set of three Sam Shepard plays mid-'80s (Roach won an Obie, the off-Broadway dramatic award), and Bumpy, A Bopera (written by Amiri Baraka, who used to be LeRoi Jones) c'90, based on Bumpy Johnson, a black gangster and folk-hero in Harlem (he was the character in the film Cotton Club who threw a stink-bomb into the club because of its attitude towards blacks).