Roland began as a clarinetist, attending the Institute of Musical Art (later known as the Juilliard School) from 1937 to 1939. He started on xylophone in 1940 and began playing vibraphone in the middle of the decade, playing in jazz clubs in New York City. Influenced by the nascent bebop movement, Roland put together his own ensembles late in the decade, and in the 1950s he played with Oscar Pettiford (1951), George Shearing (1951–53), Howard McGhee, and Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five (1953–54), Freddie Redd (1955), Mat Mathews (1956), and Aaron Sachs (1956).
In the early sixties Roland relocated from New York to Miami Florida. He was an influential part of a thriving jazz scene in South Florida for many years. During his 13 year "gig" at Monty Trainer's Bayshore Restaurant in Coconut Grove he was credited for having trained many young musicians from the University of Miami. He worked steadfastly throughout his life refining his art humbly in local clubs accompanied by bassists such as Lew Berryman and Mark Trail, and singers like Sandy Patton. His dedication to his "musicianship" remained the focus of his life. He died of natural causes at the age of 89 in Palm Beach County Florida. He was known to all as a "True and Pure Jazz Musician."
Roland's contributions can be appreciated in a quote from Peter Dempsy regarding Artie Shaw's Summit Ridge Drive album: "The Gramercy Five recordings of 1953 and 1954 document a brilliant phase in early modern jazz, manifested in the presence of pianist Hank Jones, guitarist Tal Farlow, bassist Tommy Potter and vibraphonist Joe Roland.
Robert Roland, Pianist, Son. His Website ROLANDonPIANO.com has a page dedicated to Joe Roland with additional history and pictures with other Jazz greats.