Maxwell Lemuel “Max” Roach died on August 16, 2007, at the age of 83; he was an American jazz percussionist, drummer, and composer.
Born in the Township of Newland, Pasquotank County, North Carolina, which borders the southern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp, to Alphonse and Cressie Roach. Many confuse this with Newland Town in Avery County.
Although Roach’s birth certificate lists his date of birth as January 10, 1924, Roach has been quoted by Phil Schaap as having stated that his family believed he was born on January 8, 1925.
Roach’s most significant innovations came in the 1940s, when he and jazz drummer Kenny Clarke devised a new concept of musical time.
By playing the beat-by-beat pulse of standard 4/4 time on the “ride” cymbal instead of on the thudding bass drum, Roach and Clarke developed a flexible, flowing rhythmic pattern that allowed soloists to play freely.
The new approach also left space for the drummer to insert dramatic accents on the snare drum, “crash” cymbal and other components of the trap set.
In 1952, Roach co-founded Debut Records with bassist Charles Mingus.
This label released a record of a May 15, 1953 concert, billed as ‘the greatest concert ever’, which came to be known as Jazz at Massey Hall, featuring Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Mingus and Roach.
Also released on this label was the groundbreaking bass-and-drum free improvisation, Percussion Discussion.
In 1972, Roach was named as a professor of music at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
His career accomplishments were further recognized when Roach was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1982, and when he was selected as a 1984 Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1988, Roach received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” the first given to a jazz musician.
In the early 1980s, Roach began presenting entire concerts solo, proving that this multi-percussion instrument could fulfil the demands of solo performance and be entirely satisfying to an audience.
He created memorable compositions in these solo concerts; a solo record was released by Baystate, a Japanese label.
One of these solo concerts is available on video, which also includes a filming of a recording date for “Chattahoochee Red”, featuring his working quartet, Odean Pope, Cecil Bridgewater and Calvin Hill.
Roach found new contexts for presentation, creating unique musical ensembles. One of these groups was “The Double Quartet”.
It featured his regular performing quartet, with personnel as above, except Tyrone Brown replaced Hill; this quartet joined
“The Uptown String Quartet”, led by his daughter Maxine Roach, featuring Diane Monroe, Lesa Terry and Eileen Folson.
Roach gave his last concert in 2000 and made his final recording in 2002.
He suffered from a neurological disorder for an extended period before his death.