Maxwell Roach was born on January 10, 1924 in Newland, North Carolina, Max Roach is considered to be one of the most important drummers in jazz.
Though he got his ostensible start at the Manhattan School Of Music, his experience as a drummer began much earlier. When he was four years old, Roach and his family moved to Brooklyn. New York City became a crucial musical outlet for Roach, and it was here he began playing a bugle in parade orchestras and gospel bands at a very young age. At 16, Roach performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, substituting for drummer Sonny Greer.
In 1942 Roach began jamming with other jazz musicians (including Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk) at Monroe’s Uptown House, a nightclub in Harlem. The musicians that often accompanied Roach were experimenting with a new musical style that would eventually be known as bebop (aka bop). Watching and learning from innovators like Kenny Clarke, Roach realized this new style offered great freedom to drummers. Taking Clarke’s idea of using cymbals rather than the bass drum for the primary rhythmic pulse of the music, Roach quickly made the style his own, becoming the leading drummer in bebop.
Throughout his career, Roach recorded with the best that jazz had to offer. From Miles Davis’ Birth Of The Cool recordings (1949–’50) and Charlie Parker’s "Ko-Ko" (1945). It wasn’t until 1952 that Roach led his own studio session.
That same year, Roach teamed up with bassist Charles Mingus and founded Debut Records. Roach found himself too busy touring to tend to the store, but credits Debut with spring-boarding his career. His record company released his first session as a leader as well as his famed Massey Hall performance.
The University Of Massachusetts at Amherst hired Roach as a professor in 1972, which earned him the distinction as one of the first jazz musicians to teach full time at the college level. He also taught at the Lenox School Of Jazz in Lenox, Massachusetts. He was also the first jazz musician to receive the Genius Grant from The McArthur Foundation, which he was awarded in 1988.
Roach continued to compose and tour with his quartet well into the 2000s. He died in 2007 after a long illness.