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Maxwell Roach was born to Alphonse and Cressie Roach on January 10, 1924 in Pasquotank County, North Carolina. Max’s mother was a gospel singer, so music was always in his home growing up.
Max started playing the bugle in parade orchestras very young, it wasn’t until he was 10 years old that he started playing the drum for in gospel bands. At age 18, fresh out of school he was called upon to fill in for Sonny Greer who worked with the Duke Ellington orchestra. From there he started playing in the jazz clubs. Max landed his 1st professional recording on December 1943, he worked with Coleman Hawkins.
Max was known for his bebop style of play. He played alongside many of the major names in jazz, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis and Coleman Hawkins.
Max furthered his knowledge by studying classical percussion at the Manhattan School of Music in 1950 to 1953. In 1952, Max and Charles Mingus founded Debut Records releasing a record on May 15, 1953, known as “Jazz at Massey Hall”. Max also released “Percussion Discussion”.
Max musical talents allowed him to present to solo concerts, proving the he could satisfy an audience on his own merit. This opened the door for many opportunities like recording a duet with the oration by Dr. Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream”. Max also wrote music for theater, he was known for working with Sam Shepard.
Max also worked with Hip Hop Artist Fab Five Freddy and the New York Break Dancers. Max shared that there was a direct link between the two. The expression of these young black artists and the art form in which he had pursued his whole life.
Max was given the MacArthur Foundation grant in 1988. He also was recognized and awarded for his many contributions to music. Max was also elected to the International Percussive Art Society Hall. In 1986, London name a park in Brixton after him which he went do to officially open it. In 2009, he was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.
On August 16, 2007 Maxwell Roach passed away in Manhattan. He was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery, in The Bronx, New York City.