Name at birth: Maxwell Lemuel Roach
Max Roach was a New York drummer who helped shape modern jazz during the bebop era of the 1940s and '50s. A New York city resident from the age of four, he got into jazz as a teenager and began recording in the 1940s. Influenced by drummer Kenny Clarke (1914-1985), Roach paved the way for percussionists to move beyond the role of timekeeper and become true instrumentalists. He played with most of the greats of jazz, including Duke Ellington (Money Jungle), Charlie Parker, Miles Davis (Birth of the Cool), Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus. Critics consider some of his finest work to be with trumpeter Clifford Brown and pianist Richie Powell in the early 1950s. (Brown and Powell -- pianist Bud Powell's brother -- were killed in an auto accident in 1956.) As the bop era progressed into the late '50s, Roach was known for "hard bop" and experimentation on albums such as Max Roach Plus Four (1956), Deeds Not Words (1958) and Max (1958) . During the 1960s and '70s his work became overtly political (1960's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite and 1962's Speak, Brother, Speak), and he moved beyond traditional jazz to explore other formats. Roach also taught at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst (1972-1979) and received numerous awards throughout his career, including a 1988 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" of more than $300,000.
One of his most famous recordings is 1953’s Jazz at Massey Hall, with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Charles Mingus.