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Cadenza: A Life of Reinvention

Max Roach, the most ingenious drummer to rise with and define the nature of modern jazz, died on August 16. The news was hardly unexpected: He was 83 and had long battled that dreadful disease, Alzheimer’s. He rarely recorded or appeared in public during the past decade; his final bow, a 2002 collaboration with Clark Terry (Friendship), came as an isolated bolt from the blue, a shaking of the branches in the autumn of a career that endured more than its share of winter. So why does his passing darken the sky?

Well, for one thing, a curtain has descended-when the last of the Mohicans goes, the world grieves a bit more than for most mortals. With the passing of Max, bop belongs to the ages. A few members of its second wave remain with us, most prominently James Moody, Lee Konitz, Hank Jones and those graduates of Bud Powell’s Modernists, Roy Haynes and Sonny Rollins. But Roach was the last survivor of Charlie Parker’s “Koko” session, the last constituent (as Parker might have said) in the first wave of benign revolutionaries who brought the new music to fruition at the Onyx Club, the Three Deuces and, as we learned only a couple of years ago, Town Hall, on June 22, 1945.

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Originally Published

Gary Giddins

Gary Giddins is the author of 12 books, including Rhythm-a-Ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation (1985), Visions of Jazz: The First Century (1998), Weather Bird (2004), and the three-volume biography Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star, of which two volumes have been published to date. Between 1974 and 2003, he wrote a regular jazz column for The Village Voice, winning six ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for excellence in music criticism. From 2002 to 2008, he wrote JazzTimes‘ Cadenza column.