ASSOCIATED PRESS: NEW YORK — By his 30th birthday, Max Roach was already considered the greatest jazz drummer ever by his peers. By the time he died this week, the 83-year-old master percussionist was known worldwide as much more: innovator, activist, teacher, genius. Roach, whose rhythmic innovations and improvisations defined bebop jazz during a career marked by expectations defied and musical boundaries ignored, died late Wednesday in a Manhattan hospital after a long illness.
No additional details were available, said Cem Kurosman, spokesman for Blue Note Records, where Roach played on seminal recordings with Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Roach was elected to the Downbeat magazine Hall of Fame in 1980, and the Grammy Hall of Fame 15 years later.
The creatively restless Roach, who debuted with Ellington‘s band as a self-taught 16-year-old drummer in 1940, challenged his listeners and himself by making music that connected the jazz of the pre-World War II era with the beats of the hip-hop generation. “I try to show my students the correlation between hip-hop and Louis Armstrong,” he once said. “That’s how well-rooted hip-hop is, coming out of an environment where people were denied any kind of cultural enrichment.”
What distinguished Roach from other drummers were his fast hands and ability to simultaneously maintain several rhythms. By layering different beats and varying the meter, Roach pushed jazz beyond the boundaries of standard 4/4 time. His dislocated beats helped define bebop. Roach’s innovative use of cymbals for melodic lines, and tom-toms and bass drums for accents, helped elevate the percussionist from mere timekeeper to featured performer — on a par with the trumpeter and saxophonist. MORE