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Matt Brennan: Kick It: A Social History of the Drum Kit (Oxford University Press)

A review of the book that takes readers on the historical journey of the drum set

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Kick It: A Social History of the Drum Kit by Matt Brennan
Kick It: A Social History of the Drum Kit by Matt Brennan

Matt Brennan’s well-researched, entertainingly written, and greatly enjoyable 371-page read takes us on a historical journey with greater implications than one might at first suspect. If it were only for its excellent documentation of the origins of the drum set, Kick It would be a great success.

Under the chapter heading “Clever drummers, primitivism, entrepreneurialism, and the invention of the trap drummer’s outfit,” Brennan cites the racial stereotypes behind the age-old practice of demeaning drummers (including the terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow,” the former meaning white/intellectual and the latter black/primitive), the drum set’s beginnings in Turkish Janissary music, New Orleans drummer Dee Dee Chandler’s seminal 1896 bass drum pedal design and role as the first drummer to play “true jazz,” the rise of Gretsch and Ludwig, and how early ragtime and trap drummers “were a direct challenge to cultural imperialism … [They] tended to be categorized as non-music.” Sound familiar?

Kick It is full of many such discoveries, as Brennan lifts the drummer up from centuries of low pay, prejudice, egotistical ensemble mates (concert drummers were originally required to set up the orchestra’s music stands and charts), engineers’ harangues, and the like. The book’s greatest achievement is in establishing drummers—male and female, from Kenny Clarke to Karen Carpenter—and the drum set as both harbingers and foundations of all music styles. Essential reading for every drummer, and every other musician who fancies himself one.

Learn more about Kick It: A Social History of the Drum Kit on Amazon!


Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.