Max Roach Day

January 10, 1924 – August 16, 2007

A birthday tribute to an all-time jazz great

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Drummer Max Roach was born on January 10, 1924 in Newland, North Carolina.

Roach, who grew up in Brooklyn, started on the drums when he was ten and studied at the Manhattan School Of Music.

He was in the house band at Monroe’s Uptown House in 1942, getting opportunities to jam with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie who both recognized his forward-looking talents.

Roach made his recording debut with Coleman Hawkins in 1943 (and was on Hawkins’ pioneering bop sessions the following year), worked with the Benny Carter Orchestra, and played on 52nd Street with Gillespie.

With Kenny Clarke (who was the first bop drummer) in the service, Roach built upon his innovations and was quite busy during the second half of the 1940s including working with Stan Getz, Allan Eager, Hawkins, the Charlie Parker Quintet (1947-49), Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool Nonet (1949-50) and virtually every name in modern jazz including with Parker and Gillespie at the famous 1953 Massey Hall Concert.

He co-founded the Debut label with Charles Mingus in 1952 and worked with Louis Jordan, Red Allen, the Lighthouse All-Stars and Jazz At The Philharmonic.

During 1954-56, Roach co-led a pacesetting quintet with Clifford Brown that by late-1955 included Sonny Rollins; after Brown’s tragic death other members of the group included Kenny Dorham, Ray Bryant, Booker Little, Tommy Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard, Hank Mobley, George Coleman, Stanley Turrentine, Clifford Jordan, Julian Priester and Roach’s wife singer Abbey Lincoln.

One of the most respected and skilled jazz drummers of all time (and a master at using space as he built up his solos), Roach continued leading groups for the remainder of his life including a long-time quartet with Odean Pope, Cecil Bridgewater and Tyrone Brown, the all-percussion group M’Boom, the Uptown String Quartet, and special duo albums with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton and Archie Shepp.

Here is Max Roach accompanying and interacting with dancer Harold Nicholas in 1981.

-Scott Yanow


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