Max Roach is the most highly regarded drummer in the history of jazz, which he should be. At 78—and variously claiming now that he might not be playing again, or that he might be playing again, or that he is tired of playing, or that he has some new stuff he’s thinking about playing—Roach should be saluted for all that he has brought to his instrument and to jazz. Few words can accurately describe him, but genius, even as abused a word as it now is, fits him like a perfectly tailored suit.
In New York in 1944, Roach performed in the very first bebop band under the leadership of Dizzy Gillespie. The style he was playing had been invented by Kenny Clarke, who was then in the army. But Roach went far, far beyond bringing his own personality to the innovations of another man, which is what most artists do in any art form. Roach, due to his jazz experience and his knowledge of European concert music, which included playing percussion and Bach two-part inventions, made another synthesis, bringing to jazz a far more advanced version of the kinds of compositional extensions of thematic material that Stravinsky used to blow a hole in the wall of academic convention.