One of the most important drummers in jazz history, Max Roach (b. 1924) was not only the definitive bop drummer but a forward-looking innovator who was also a significant bandleader.
Roach started playing drums when he was ten and he attended the Manhattan School of Music. Building on the innovations of Kenny Clarke, Roach became an architect as a drummer, building his solos up methodically and logically. He recorded with Coleman Hawkins, worked with Benny Carter, and, by 1945 when he joined Charlie Parker, he was considered the top young drummer in jazz.
Part of the classic Charlie Parker Quintet of 1947-1949 (with Miles Davis) and a participant on Davis’s Birth of the Cool recordings, Roach co-founded the Debut label with Charles Mingus, worked on the West Coast with the Lighthouse All-Stars, and during 1954-1956 led a definitive hard-bop group with trumpeter Clifford Brown. After Brown’s tragic death in a car accident, Roach continued leading important groups, using such sidemen as tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, trumpeter Booker Little, and his wife, singer Abbey Lincoln. He was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement (recording the monumental Freedom Now Suite), recorded duets with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor, led the ten-piece percussion ensemble M’Boom, had a dynamic quartet for 20 years, and was always open to new musical challenges.
Recordings from three different periods in Max Roach’s musical life are available in the Concord/Fantasy catalog. Featuring Hank Mobley from 1953 has a quartet and a septet, both of which feature fine early hard-bop playing from Mobley on tenor in addition to a couple unaccompanied drum solos. Deeds, Not Words from 1958 features Booker Little, George Coleman on tenor, and the modern tuba playing of Ray Draper. Speak, Brother, Speak, a live set from 1962, consists of two lengthy performances by a Roach quartet with tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan and pianist Mal Waldron. What these three recordings have in common is the constant creativity of the immortal Max Roach.
Max Roach died on August 15, 2007.