THE MAX ROACH Double Quartet, which makes its area debut at the International Association of Jazz Educators convention this weekend, is even more of a family affair than it first appears. Besides featuring the legendary and still venturesome jazz drummer and his daughter, Maxine Roach, the group owes a big debt to the late Cressie Roach, the drummer's mother.

It was Cressie, after all, who first urged her son and violist granddaughter to collaborate, though she never lived it see it happen.

"She used to say to me, 'Well, you're playing Charlie Parker and Dizzy {Gillespie}, so when are you going to do something with your daughter?' " Max recalls. "The notion had never occurred to me before that. So when Maxine got out of Oberlin and returned from some time in Europe, I told her to get some people together and we'd see what would happen."

What happened was a meeting of musical minds, generations and genres. The Double Quartet is just that -- a jazz quartet composed of Max on drums, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, tenor saxophonist Odean Pope and bassist Tyrone Brown; and the Uptown String Quartet, featuring Maxine on viola, violinists Kathleen Thomas and Lesa Terry (the niece of jazz trumpeter Clark Terry) and cellist Eileen Folson.

The drummer, who celebrated his 66th birthday this week, says the primary reason for assembling the Double Quartet was "to develop a repertoire combining this kind of jazz and classical instrumentation and the works of American composers."

In addition to drawing material from the bandmembers, the Double Quartet performs diverse works by Roland Kirk, Randy Weston, Steve Turre, Bill Lee (father of film director Spike Lee) and other jazz artists.

"We try to preserve the kind of freedom I'm accustomed to in working with the small bands and also stress the orchestral thing you have with big bands," Roach points out. "We push the strings right up there with the rest of the band so they're not just a backdrop. I like to fuse the material we have and the players we have into one sound, creating a tension and release that keeps building, hopefully . . . and there's an element of surprise that keeps it a lot of fun."

Reconciling jazz and classical traditions is nothing new for Roach. In the late '50s he collaborated with composer and arranger Peter Phillips on "Concerto for Max."

"That was our way of breaking down the walls," Roach explains. "That's always been one of the challenges for me. I remember when people said you couldn't combine jazz and gospel, that secular and spiritual music didn't mix, but I wanted to try it . . . . I like the freedom to fall flat on my face if doesn't work and the freedom to stand up and shout if it does."

While his open-mindedness and eclectic tastes are well-known -- he's eagerly collaborated with everyone from jazz avant-gardists to rap acts in recent years -- Roach concedes his opinions aren't widely shared by his peers. Laughter still wells up in him when he recalls how many of his contemporaries shrugged off M'Boom, the innovative eight-member percussion ensemble he founded twenty years ago.

"They'd come up to me after the show and say, 'Max, I don't hear it -- it doesn't swing.' They were so used to playing in four. It doesn't have to be one, two, three, four to swing. Swing can happen when there's a constant flow of time."

Still, Roach's experiments and explorations haven't always gone unappreciated. Three years ago he became the first jazz musician to win a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called "genius grant" that carries with it a sizable monetary award.

"You know, just last night," he says chuckling, "an old musician friend of mine asked me, 'Hey Max, how do you sign up for one of those?' "

THE MAX ROACH DOUBLE QUARTET -- Appearing Friday with the Oleg Lundstrem Jazz Orchestra and the Bob Mintzer Big Band at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. The International Association of Jazz Educators Convention runs through the weekend. Call 800/448-9009 or 202/347-2604.