The Stroker

MICKEY ROKER – In honor to Mickey Roker, who passed away on May 22 at the age of eighty-four in his hometown of Philadelphia, I picked a few tunes that showcase the drummer’s exceptional style. During a long-standing career, Roker performed and recorded with Gigi Gryce, Duke Pearson, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Horace Silver, Dizzy Gillespie, The Modern Jazz Quartet and many others. In his own words, Roker, also known as The Stroker because he knew his way not only with sticks but also around the pool table, was ‘just a swinger, from the old school you know, just a time-keeper.’ He was that, but more. Propulsive most of all, and versatile, comfortable with both Stanley Turrentine and McCoy Tyner. Roker was also blessed with a unique feeling for exotic rhythm.

Gil Fuller and Chano Pozo’s Afro-Cuban classic Tin Tin Deo with Junior Mance (Happy Time, Jazzland 1961):

With Sonny Rollins, the indelible Three Little Words (On Impulse 1965):

Three Little Words.

As vintage hard bop as it can get with Duke Pearson, Sudel (Sweet Honey Bee, Blue Note 1966):


Avant-leaning cooperation with Herbie Hancock, First Child (Speak Like A Child, Blue Note 1968):

First Child.

Roker is an irreplaceable part of Frank Foster’s Manhattan Fever supplying the groove and finesse that makes it such a fine late-period hard bop album: Little Miss No Nose (Manhattan Fever, Blue Note 1968):

Little Miss No Nose.

And swinging hard in old-fashioned bop mode with Dizzy Gillespie and Milt Jackson at Montreux, Cherokee (The Dizzy Gillespie Big 7, Pablo 1975):


For the most informative of obits, read Nate Chinen’s piece in WBGO.

Pianist Ethan Iverson did one of his great marathon interviews with Mickey Roker in 2011 for his blog Do The Math.

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