The self-taught musical prodigy died Wednesday night at an undisclosedhospital in Manhattan, said Cem Kurosman, spokesman for Blue Note Records,one of Roach’s labels. No additional details were available, he saidThursday.

Roach received his first musical break at age 16, filling in for threenights in 1940 when Ellington’s drummer fell ill.

Roach’s performance led him to the legendary Minton’s Playhouse inHarlem,where he joined luminaries Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in theburgeoning bebop movement. In 1944, Roach joined Gillespie and ColemanHawkins in one of the first bebop recording sessions.

What distinguished Roach from other drummers were his fast hands andability to simultaneously maintain several rhythms. By layering differentbeats and varying the meter, Roach pushed jazz beyond the boundaries ofstandard 4/4 time. His dislocated beats helped define bebop.

Roach’s innovative use of cymbals for melodic lines, and tom-toms andbassdrums for accents, helped elevate the percussionist from mere timekeeperto featured performer – on a par with the trumpeter and saxophonist.

“One of the grand masters of our music,” Gillespie once observed.

In a 1988 essay in The New York Times, Wynton Marsalis wrote of Roach:”All great instrumentalists have a superior quality of sound, and his isone of the marvels of contemporary music. … The roundness and nobilityof sound on the drums and the clarity and precision of the cymbalsdistinguishes Max Roach as a peerless master.”

Throughout the jazz upheaval of the 1940s and ’50s, Roach played bebopwith the Charlie Parker Quintet and cool bop with the Miles Davis CapitolOrchestra. He joined trumpeter Clifford Brown in playing hard bop, a jazzform that maintained bebop’s rhythmic drive while incorporating the bluesand gospel.

In 1952, Roach and bassist-composer Charles Mingus founded Debut Records.Among the short-lived label’s releases was a famed 1953 Torontoperformance in Massey’s Hall, featuring Roach, Mingus, Parker, Gillespieand pianist Bud Powell.

But by the mid-1950s, Roach had watched several of his friends -including Parker – die from heroin addiction. In 1956, Roach wasfurther devastated when Brown died in a car accident.

After his own struggle with drugs and alcohol, Roach rebounded with thehelp of his first wife, singer Abbey Lincoln. Married in 1962, theydivorced eight years later.

Roach re-emerged in the 1960s free jazz era with a new politicalconsciousness. Albums like “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite”reflected his support of black activism.

Over the next decades, Roach expanded his repertoire and explored newchallenges. He taught at the University of Massachusetts, traveled toGhana in search of new music, and performed with groups from Japan andCuba.

He also formed an all-percussion ensemble known as M’Boom, a quartet anda double quartet that included Roach’s daughter Maxine Roach on viola.

Roach even worked with rapper Fab Five Freddy in the early 1980s.Ignoring critics, Roach insisted rap had a place on music’s “boundless palette.”

Roach, who in 1988 became the first jazz musician to receive a MacArthurFellowship “genius award,” said his curiosity reflected his sense ofobligation to music. He was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1995.

Max Roach was born in New Land, N.C., on Jan. 10, 1924. His family movedfour years later to a Brooklyn apartment, where a player piano left by theprevious tenants gave Roach his musical introduction.

Using player piano rolls of Jelly Roll Morton and Albert Ammons, Roachplayed along by putting his fingers on the keys and pedals as they roseand fell. But he was looking for another instrument to play when he begansinging with the children’s choir at the Concord Baptist Church.

Roach found a snare drum, and was hooked. His father gave theeighth-grader his first set of drums, and Roach was drummingprofessionally while still in high school.

He was survived by five children: sons Daryl and Raoul, and daughtersMaxine, Ayl and Dara.