Maxwell Lemuel Roach (January 10, 1924 – August 16, 2007) was an American jazz drummer and composer. A pioneer of bebop, he worked in many other styles of music, and is generally considered alongside the most important drummers in history. He worked with many famous jazz musicians, including Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Abbey Lincoln, Dinah Washington, Charles Mingus, Billy Eckstine, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, and Booker Little. He was inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1992.
Roach also led his own groups, most notably a pioneering quintet co-led with trumpeter Clifford Brown and the percussion ensemble M’Boom. He made numerous musical statements relating to the civil rights movement.
Max Roach was born to Alphonse and Cressie Roach in the Township of Newland, Pasquotank County, North Carolina, which borders the southern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp. Many confuse the Township of Newland with Newland Town in Avery County, North Carolina. Although his 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 actually born on January 8, 1925.
Roach’s family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York when he was 4 years old. He grew up in a musical home, his mother being a gospel singer. He started to play bugle in parade orchestras at a young age. At the age of 10, he was already playing drums in some gospel bands.
In 1942, as an 18-year-old recently graduated from Boys High School, he was called to fill in for Sonny Greer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra when they were performing at the Paramount Theater in Manhattan. He starting going to the jazz clubs on 52nd Street and at 78th Street & Broadway for Georgie Jay’s Taproom, where he played with schoolmate Cecil Payne. His first professional recording took place in December 1943, supporting Coleman Hawkins.
He was one of the first drummers, along with Kenny Clarke, to play in the bebop style. Roach performed in bands led by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, and Miles Davis. He played on many of Parker’s most important records, including the Savoy Records November 1945 session, which marked a turning point in recorded jazz. His early brush work with Powell’s trio, especially at fast tempos, has been highly praised.