In the words of Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Max Roach is "a name at the core and nucleus of the main innovations in percussion and the advanced creativity of the whole of the music" throughout the 20th century. Roach entered the music industry as a teenager, going on to work with and contribute to some of the greatest musical ensembles the world has seen. Beyond his rhythmic innovations and pioneering in bebop and jazz, Roach was among the first jazz musicians to teach full-time at the college level, joining the faculty at UMass Amherst in 1972, and further to receive a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 1988.
Max Roach was also the godfather of hiphop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy and embraced hiphop early in its development. He famously said, "The culture that’s come from black folks is the most profound sound of the 20th century. From Jelly Roll Morton to Scott Joplin right up to hip-hop, it’s all in the same continuum. Hip hop is related to what Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker did because here was a group of young people who made something out of very little."
Check out this 1993 interview with Roach done by visual artist Jomo Cheatham in Chicago. In the clip, Roach speaks about rap music, jazz, public education, creativity, and genius in Black America. You can read more about his overall legacy and greatness in "The Great Max Roach" from The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader below.
*Feature Image: Portrait of Max Roach, Three Deuces, New York, N.Y., ca. Oct. 1947. William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.