Max Roach is known for being the leading drummer of the bebop movement, and justifiably so. He was the first to fully grasp the implications of the new style developed by Kenny Clarke, which drove the beat with the cymbal rather than the bass drum and led to the swirling, syncopated style that still dominates jazz today.
At a very young age Roach began playing with Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk in New York. From 1947 through the mid-'50s he played in every important bebop and post-bop band to come out of the scene, including Parker's legendary quintet and Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool combo. Later, having married singer Abbie Lincoln, Roach embarked on a musical/political crusade, recording albums such as 1960's We Insist! Freedom Now Suite that led to a diminished profile in the public eye.
While bop is still Roach's main musical idiom, his total mastery of the drums makes him eminently listenable in any setting — check out 1962's fantastic Money Jungle (with Duke Ellington and Charlie Mingus) or Roach's own 1956 album Max Roach Plus Four (featuring Sonny Rollins) for proof. Even at his advanced age and in spaces as cavernous as the Masonic Auditorium, Roach rewards audiences with deft and thorough demonstrations of his solo percussive chops, playing precise tunes and stunning high-hat rhythms. From time to time he even demonstrates a deeply moving singing voice. Roach might not be the same drummer who burst on the scene as a teenager during the '40s, but he still conjures the power and innovation that birthed jazz's greatest rhythms.