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Max Roach, one of the greatest jazz drummers in history, died last night in Manhattan at 83.
Roach, who entered the jazz world at 16 by filling in for Duke Ellington’s drummer, became one of the first generation of bebop musicians in the 1940s, playing for the renowned 1947 Charlie Parker Quintet (which also featured a young Miles Davis on trumpet). He was side by side with Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey in revolutionizing the rhythmic foundations of jazz. In the next six decades he would become one of the most ubiquitous and sought-after of percussionists, founding one of the last great bop groups with Clifford Brown and helping usher jazz into the ’60s civil rights movement with his album We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite. Roach was also a civil rights activist in his own right.
Roach had a lightning-fast technique, an ability to play several interlocking rhythms simultaneously, and perhaps the most sophisticated technical mastery any jazz drummer has ever shown (see below). The jazz world’s loss today is tremendous.