Acclaimed be-bop drummer and composer Max Roach died in his sleep early this morning (Aug. 16) at age 83 in New York, according to a spokesperson from Blue Note Records. The cause of death was not announced.
Considered one of the most influential drummers in jazz and beyond, Roach was born Jan. 10, 1924, in Newland, N.C., and moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., as a child. Raised in a musical family, he started drumming with gospel bands at age 10 and played with Duke Ellington at 16.
“Max was one of the founders and original members of the A-Team of Bebop,” said longtime friend and collaborator Quincy Jones, who first recorded with Roach in the 50s. “He was also one of the first American musicians to understand the complex polyrhythms of Africa. Outside of losing a giant and an innovator, I’ve lost a great, great friend. Thank God he left a piece of his soul on his recordings so that we’ll always have a part of him with us.”
Over the course of his seven decade career, Roach recorded more than 70 albums, working with luminaries like Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins. In 1952, he co-founded Debut Records with Mingus and released the groundbreaking live album “Jazz at Massey Hall,” featuring Parker, Gillespie, Bud Powell and Mingus.
He went on to record albums with Dinah Washington and Ellington, and in 1966 released a solo album, “Drums Unlimited.” The record, containing several tracks comprised solely of drum solos, caused a stir at the time and remains one of the few records of its sort to date.
A longtime civil rights advocate, Roach in 1960 released a seven-section suite themed around slavery and racism, “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite,” that featured vocalist Abbey Lincoln, who he married two years later.
In later years, Roach performed solo show and recorded duets with such outside the mainstream musicians like Cecil Taylor, Abdullah Ibrahim and Connie Crothers. He also wrote for the theater and performed with hip-hop act Fab Five Freddy and the New York Break Dancers.
In addition to eight honorary doctorate degrees, Roach also served on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts. He is survived by three daughters and two sons.