Rhythm and Beauty

"Rhythm & Beauty: The Art of Percussion"

by Rocky Maffit

Billboard Books


The oldest and simplest of families of instruments is also the largest and most diverse. From Charlie Parker to The Sex Pistols, percussion has been the common element to and the driving force behind most forms of music in the last hundred years. The instruments can be metal or wood, outfitted with leather or strings; they can be carried, sat behind or worn. They can be simple and homemade or complex and expensive. Watch tourists gather around a guy beating on plastic buckets on a New York subway platform and you'll get the idea: Drums are everywhere, and are made from just about anything.


Few people could claim knowledge of all the various forms of drums, of the djembe and the balafon and the frattoir and the mbira, but making a thorough catalogue isn't Rocky Maffit's intent in his attractive, oversize book Rhythm & Beauty: The Art of Percussion. Maffit is a drummer and teacher from Illinois who has studied in Ghana, Nigeria and Brazil. By his own admission, the book is a "personal and highly subjective" survey, one he suggests could be an entry point into exploring the various worlds of percussion.


To that extent, it's an appealing volume. Some fifty instruments are considered with concise histories and descriptions for each. In a few paragraphs, Maffit quickly covers history, legend, uses and manner of playing for the instruments. What really sells the book, however, is Chris Brown's photographs. He takes the instruments Maffit discusses and treats it like a portrait subject, using close-ups, studio settings or action shots to capture something of the beauty of each piece. His colorful pictures fill the pages of the book, suggesting the lives all over the world these instruments fill.


As a reference book, Rhythm & Beauty -- which was first released in 1999 and comes out now in softcover and with a new afterword -- is sparse. But the direct simplicity and the attractive presentation make it inviting to flip through repeatedly, especially for a young drummer or someone just beginning to wonder about the world of rhythm.


Kurt Gottschalk