Max Roach, the musical genius who helped create modern jazz and is considered to be one of the most important drummers in the genre’s history, died August 16 in New York City. He was 83. His cause of death was undisclosed.
Roach, a BMI affiliate since 1961, was born Jan. 10, 1924 in New Land, N.C., but later moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn where he began playing drums at the age of 10. As a teenager, Roach worked with composer Duke Ellington and jammed with saxophonist Charlie Parker, which led to his contribution to bebop, a jagged and unpredictable jazz styling. Roach recorded over 70 albums, paired with such legends as Dinah Washington, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins. Money Jungle, with Mingus and Ellington, is regarded as one of the finest trio albums recorded.
In 1952, Roach co-founded Debut Records and released Jazz at Massey Hall, and the bass-and-drum improvisation Percussion Discussion. Roach’s advocacy for civil rights was heard through his music with We Insist! - Freedom Now and a recorded duet including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” oration. He received eight honorary doctoral degrees and a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, cited as a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France. He also served as a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts.
Roach is survived by five children: sons Daryl and Raoul, and daughters Maxine, Ayl and Dara.