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Jazz Musician Max Roach Dies at 83

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Max Roach, the dazzling drummer who helped create the rhythmic language of modern jazz while expanding the expressive possibilities of the drums, died Aug. 15 in New York. He was 83 and had been ill for several years.

Mr. Roach was a founding architect of bebop, the high-speed, harmonically advanced music of the 1940s that helped elevate jazz from dance-hall entertainment to concert-stage art. In dozens of landmark recordings with such musical giants as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk -- including a 1953 performance that has entered legend as “the greatest jazz concert ever" -- he pioneered a new approach to jazz drumming that remains the standard to this day.

An influential force in music for 60 years, Mr. Roach expanded the borders of improvised music by incorporating elements of other artistic traditions, including African and Asian music, dance, poetry and hip-hop. He led performances with as many as 100 percussion instruments on stage, but he also played minimalist solos using only the high-hat, a pair of cymbals mounted on a metal stand and worked with a pedal.

“Nobody else ever had the nerve to come out on stage with a cymbal under his arm and say, 'This is art,' “ jazz critic Gary Giddins told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. “Max Roach's whole bearing says he is a musician to be treated like any great virtuoso. No drummer before him had ever achieved that."

He later became a strong voice for racial equality through his compositions and his recordings with singer Abbey Lincoln, to whom he was married for several years.In 1988, he was among the first jazz musicians to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, or so-called “genius grant."

Mr. Roach's most significant innovations came in the 1940s, when he and another jazz drummer, Kenny Clarke, devised a new concept of musical time. By playing the beat-by-beat pulse of standard 4/4 time on the “ride" cymbal instead of on the thudding bass drum, Roach and Clarke developed a flexible, flowing rhythmic pattern that allowed soloists to play freely. The new approach also left space for the drummer to insert dramatic accents on the snare drum, “crash" cymbal and other components of the trap set.

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