MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 1988

Max Roach

Percussionist and Jazz Composer

Amherst, Massachusetts

Age: 64 at time of award

Deceased: Aug. 16, 2007

Published August 1, 1988

Max Roach was a drummer, composer, and a pioneer in the development of contemporary American music, who revolutionized the use of the multiple-percussion set. 

One of the most versatile and inventive percussionists of the modern jazz era, Roach played alongside stylistic leaders, helping to define the sound known as bop.  Introducing rhythmic innovations, he was among the first to establish a fixed pulse on the ride cymbal instead of the bass drum.  He was a member of Charlie Parker's historic bebop quintet (1947-1949) and led a quintet with American trumpeter Clifford Brown (1954-1956), which came to exemplify the aggressive style of jazz known as hard bop.  In 1970, he formed M' Boom Re: Percussion, a ten-member ensemble representing diverse percussion traditions from around the world. 

Roach toured widely as a lecturer on African-American music in the United States and in Europe, appearing in concert halls, on college campuses, and at major jazz festivals.  He composed works for soloists, chorus, orchestra, theater, dance, television, and film.  In 1972, he joined the faculty of the Department of Music and Dance at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, from which he retired.

Roach began drumming at the age of 10, and later attended the Manhattan School of Music. 

Last updated January 1, 2005.

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