If ever there was a single individual who both established and consistently re-established the nature of jazz drumming, it’s Max Roach. In a career that spanned more than fifty years, Max performed in every known style of music—and helped to introduce some that had not been known before.
A drummer from the age of ten, Max made his professional debut at only eighteen, subbing for the great Sonny Greer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at New York’s Paramount Theater in 1942. From there he moved quickly into the burgeoning jazz scene, playing in the clubs on NYC’s 52nd street. He also got into recording, making his first record in 1943 supporting saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.
As Max developed his career, he also helped to develop a totally new style of jazz: bebop. This exciting, improv-based small-group style saw Max playing with bands led by Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, and Miles Davis. But perhaps Max’s best-known and most important work in this period was with sax innovator Charlie “Bird” Parker. Max played on most of Parker’s important records, including a Savoy Records session in 1945 that many consider a turning point in jazz.
For more on Max, check out our salute to the “Evoluationary Giant” from 2017.