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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 124

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This is the grave of Max Roach.

Born in 1924 in Newland, North Carolina, Roach’s family moved to Brooklyn in 1928. Roach became a musician from a very young age, his mother being a gospel singer. He took up the drums as his primary instrument and played professionally from the time he graduated from high school in 1942. He became one of the first jazz drummers to play in the bebop style and became the go-to drummer for the top bandleaders of the day, from Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie to Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk. In 1952, Roach and Charles Mingus established Debut Records as an attempt to develop an independent label and avoid having to work with the major record companies. It folded soon after but made several key records in its short life, including the legendary Jazz at Massey Hall album, which was the last recorded show of Parker and Gillespie and which included both Roach and Mingus, as well as Bud Powell. He made many, many, many great albums in the 1950s and 1960s. Among them are the amazing We Insist!, with his then wife Abbey Lincoln, an album melding the innovative music of the day with the spirit and militancy of the civil rights movement. He continued trying to innovative the rest of his life, even embracing hip-hop in the 1980s and 1990s, playing concerts with Fab Five Freddy. Roach died in 2007.

Among the albums with bands led by Roach I would most recommend are 1960’s We Insist!, mentioned above, 1958’s Deeds Not Words, and 1961’s Percussion Bitter Sweet. The of course there is the Massey Hall album. I am sure that commenters will have more recommendations.

Max Roach is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.

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