Max Roach, one of the giants of modern jazz, a guy who belongs right up there with the greatest of the great but isn’t nearly as well known, died Wednesday at the ripe age of 83. Considering the odds against him, that long life was a signal achievement all its own.
No modern drummer – and maybe no jazz drummer ever – has had such an enormous effect on the future course of his art. Max changed forever the way we think about drummers and to an extent the way we think about rhythm. He was the first to blend traditional African drumming with the quirky time signatures and signature changes of Stravinsky and Bartok, and one of the first (along with Mingus and Monk) to see jazz as the potential equal of the deepest and most complex music being written by modern classical composers.