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Gearhead: How Gene Krupa Kicked the Drum Kit into the Jazz Age

The legend took the drum kit from "contraption" to classic

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Gene Krupa at the 400 Restaurant in New York, June 1946. (photo: William Gottlieb/Library of Congress)

In 1909, Chicago was the site for two events that would forever change the role of percussion in popular music: The brothers Ludwig launched their eponymous instrument company by releasing a bass drum pedal, and Anna and Bartłomiej Krupa welcomed to the world their ninth child, Eugene.

The pedal, along with other innovations, allowed one percussionist to assemble a small set known as the “traps” (short for contraption). With a single player now able to handle bass, snare, a tom-tom, and some cymbals, the traps saved space and manpower. It became an efficient, though unglamorous, timekeeper for a new rhythm-heavy musical genre then emerging in small clubs and speakeasies.

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Emile Menasché

Musician, journalist, and author Emile Menasché has composed soundtracks for Oscar- and Emmy-nominated documentaries. He is jealous that his dog Hudson gets more attention from passersby whenever they’re seen in public together.