Max Roach

Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award

“I always resented the role of a drummer as nothing more than a subservient figure,” Max Roach once said. Having talked that talk, he spent more than six decades backing it up by constantly redefining the character of his instrument. Never content to be a mere timekeeper, Roach played a huge part in establishing jazz as a form for serious listening by — for all intents and purposes — inventing bebop’s envelope-pushing rhythmic forms. The North Carolina-born, Brooklyn-raised drummer exploded onto the scene while still in his teens, manning the kit for Coleman Hawkins’ ensemble, and went on to put his imprint on such classic albums as Miles Davis’s “The Birth of Cool” and countless Charlie Parker sides. Roach went on to establish himself as a leader both in the musical realm — notably in timeless collaborations with both Clifford Brown and Abbey Lincoln — and the sphere of social activism, where he proved just as tireless. In 1988, Roach — whose polyrhythmic playing paved the way for such dynamos as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Ed Blackwell — became the first jazz musician to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, a testament to the genius amply evident to anyone who ever fell under his percussive spell.

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