Mickey Roker was born into extreme poverty in Miami to Granville and Willie Mae Roker. After his mother died, when he was only ten, he was taken by his grandmother to live in Philadelphia with his uncle Walter, who gave him his first drum kit and communicated his love of jazz to his nephew. He also introduced the young Roker to the lively jazz scene in Philadelphia, where the great Philly Joe Jones became Roker's idol.
Roker learned quickly, and he never stopped playing. In the early 1950s he started to gain recognition as a sensitive yet hard-driving big-band drummer. Especially favored by Dizzy Gillespie—who remarked of him that "once he sets a groove, whatever it is, you can go to Paris and come back and it's right there. You never have to worry about it"—
Roker was soon in demand for his supportive skills in both big-band and small-group settings. While in Philadelphia he played with Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Divine, King James and Sam Reed before moving to New York in 1959, where his first gigs were with Gigi Gryce, Ray Bryant, Joe Williams-Junior Mance, Nancy Wilson and the Duke Pearson big band.
In 1992, he replaced Connie Kay in the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Still active on the Philadelphia scene in the 21st century, Roker has recorded with Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Duke Pearson, Tommy Flanagan, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Horace Silver, Junior Mance, Sarah Vaughan, Milt Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Phil Woods, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Bucky Pizzarelli, Stanley Turrentine, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Hank Jones, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Locke, and many other jazz greats.
Mikey Roker passed away May 22, 2017...