Max Roach (1924-2007): An Appreciation

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Max Roach, a drummer both of unparalleled force and towering intellect, has passed.

A New York Times obit talks about the dramatic scope of his life’s work:

Mr. Roach’s death closes a chapter in American musical history. He was the last surviving member of a small circle of adventurous musicians – among them Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and a handful of others – whose innovations brought about wholesale changes in jazz during World War II and immediately afterward.

Their music, which came to be known as bebop, had its roots in the jazz tradition, but it was different enough to scandalize many listeners and even many of their fellow musicians. Its rhythms were more jagged and unpredictable; its harmonies were more advanced, at times dissonant; its technical demands could be daunting. Despite the skepticism and hostility they initially inspired, the beboppers established the template for how jazz was played for decades to come.

Mr. Roach, a percussion virtuoso capable of playing at the most brutal tempos with subtlety as well as power, was an important architect of this musical revolution. He remained adventurous, and modern, to the end.

Max Roach made a few notable appearances here at Something Else, among them:

Coleman Hawkins’ “Rainbow Mist” (1944): Hawk was out to top himself — so he called in some young lions, even letting a kid named Max Roach sit in on drums. Some call this the original bop recording. “Rainbow Mist” includes the first recorded version of the bop standard “Salt Peanuts,” for instance.

Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie, “Max + Dizzy, Paris” (1990): A performance of startling warmth and intelligence. That it occurred during a time that wasn’t particularly creative for Gillespie, the lion in winter, made it all the better. Roach’s still-sizzling drum work sometimes pushed the then-71-year-old Diz into places where he perhaps shouldn’t boldly go.

We’ll miss you, Max.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron

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