The jazz world is mourning the loss of one of its greatest drummers, Max Roach. Among the so-called "architects" of the be-bop movement, Roach died in his sleep on August 16 at a hospital in New York. He was 83. VOA's Doug Levine tells us more about this accomplished jazz master whose influence spanned more than 60 years.
The sound of modern jazz would probably not be the same had Max Roach not arrived on New York's bustling jazz scene in the early-1940s. It was there that Roach found work with rising stars Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk. Duke Ellington gave Roach his first taste of show business when he asked the 16-year-old novice to play in his band when his drummer fell ill.
Max Roach was born in North Carolina, and moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, when he was four years old. Roach once said his training came in the form of round-the-clock jam sessions. He worked seven days a week, playing downtown at night, uptown in the early-morning hours, and then attending all-day house parties where he watched and learned from such jazz greats as pianist Art Tatum and drummer Sid Catlett.
Max Roach performed on some of the most important jazz recordings of the bebop era, including Charlie Parker's Ornithology, Bud Powell's Un Poco Loco, and Miles Davis' landmark album, Birth Of The Cool.
Roach's groundbreaking technique, combining rapid-fire drumming with innovative rhythms and timing, often pushed the boundaries of jazz. In the 1950s, he was given the title of "greatest drummer ever" by his fellow musicians. Critics point to a 1953 concert featuring Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus as the peak of bebop. It was recorded for the album Live At Massey Hall.
Roach also played alongside Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, and vocalist Abbey Lincoln to whom he was married to for eight years. In 1988, he was one of the first two jazz musicians to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the "genius grant." Never bound to categories or labels, Roach was later known to incorporate elements of Asian and African music, as well as dance, poetry and even hip-hop. He made his final recording with trumpeter Clark Terry in 2002.