January 9, 2024

Jazz drummer and former faculty member Max Roach (Jan. 10, 1924 - Aug. 16, 2007) played a major role in the evolution of the Jazz Studies program at UMass. By the time he was recruited to the music faculty by Frederick Tillis in 1972, Roach had already established himself as a superstar in the jazz world through his work with Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and as a solo artist, and was also a leading voice in the Civil Rights and Pan-African movements of the 1960’s and 70’s.

A group black and white picture of Max Roach, Fred Tillis, Horace Boyer, and Salvatore Macchia holding their respective instruments.
Roach (left) with Fred Tillis,
Horace Boyer & Salvatore Macchia

As part of the newly-established Afro-American Music and Jazz Studies program at UMass, Roach taught courses such as Evolution of Afro‐American Music, the History of Jazz, and the Theory of Improvisational Music, while also leading a variety of student ensembles and performing in faculty combos alongside Tillis, Jeff Holmes, Reggie Workman, Horace Boyer, and many others. Roach was instrumental in bringing major artists to perform on campus, including Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Tito Puente, Ray Brown and others, to raise funds for the Fletcher Henderson Scholarship. He also presented workshops and staged major performances of his own at UMass, often accompanied by saxophonist Billy Harper and trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, along with guest performers like the J.C. White Singers.

"Jazz in July with New York's Jazzmobile" flyer, displaying times and details of various jazz workshops and performances.
Early Jazz in July flyer from 1982

In 1982, Roach helped Tillis and fellow faculty member Billy Taylor to found the Jazz in July Summer Series at UMass to cultivate the development of promising young jazz musicians. In 1984, Roach was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, and four years later received a “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. He retired from UMass in 1994.