Max Roach is hailed as the world's greatest trap drummer, but that is only one of his musical feats. As a musical explorer, performer, composer, musicologist, and educator, he has served as an ambassador to the vast universe of sound, ushering in new movements in music for the past five decades. His career serves as a timeline that traces the rise of American music as the dominant musical force of the 20th century.
Max Roach has not only been there at the historic moments in American music, he has made them happen. In the 1940s, he was there experimenting with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Oscar Pettiford, Coleman Hawkins, and Thelonious Monk. His first theater job was in 1942, when he was called to sub for Sonny Greer with the great Duke Ellington Orchestra at New York's Paramount Theater; he was 18 years old.
In 1953, he was on stage for the legendary Massey Hall Concert in Toronto. It was the only time music titans Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, and Max Roach shared the same stage.
In the 1950s, he put together the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet, which was one of the dominant ensembles of that period. In the 1960s, he integrated political consciousness into his work, composing and producing the landmark "We Insist! Freedom Now" album that became the battle cry for a generation. Then, in the 1970s, he brought the drums out from a supporting to a starring role with solo drum performances around the world. He also founded the percussion orchestra, M'Boom. For the last two decades, he has been experimenting with new ensembles, mixed media collaborations and performance art.
Mr. Roach has also composed a tremendous body of music, maintained a teaching career, and continues to act as an impresario in developing new music ensembles. Columbia University's radio station, WKCR, performed 200 hours of his music nonstop as a tribute in 1982. He is, undoubtedly, one of the most recorded artists of all time. In 1994 Mr. Roach presented at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall his multi-media performance piece entitled "JuJu." This featured his percussion ensemble M'Boom, The Donald Byrd Dance Group, and video artist Kit Fitzgerald. He performed in concert with Toni Morrison at the University of Paris and again with Ms. Morrison and dancer Bill T. Jones at Lincoln Center's 1995 Serious Fun Festival with his production of "Degga." A stunning collaboration of spoken word, dance and percussion..
In 1988, Max Roach was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in recognition for his distinguished contributions to American cultural life. He is an Honorary Member of The Academy of Arts and Letters as well as a recipient of the NEA Masters Award. He was named the Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, the country's highest cultural honor. Mr. Roach is a two-time winner of the French Grand Prix du Disque and recipient of the Primo Della Critica Discogratica Italiana Award. In 1984, he was inducted into the International Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. The Borough of Lambeth, London named a park after Mr. Roach. In 1995, he was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for his recording, "Jazz at Massey Hall."
Mr. Roach believes that you can criticize the vanguard from the ranks, oppose it from the outside, or lead it. His accomplishments speak for his choice.