I love music of diverse types, and collect musical instruments from around the world. I am especially entranced by percussion instruments. Along with that comes a fascination with rhythms. I love the music of those composers and songwriters who know how to play with rhythms, who know how to surprise me, how to slow things down at unexpected times and speed things up at others.

Today I list the four 20th century artists who I think really best understood all this. Of course, given the huge array of music available to us, there are others, but these four are my top picks. I think they offer a somewhat surprising mix.

I start with Igor Stravinsky – at the 1913 premiere of his masterwork the Rite of Spring, the crowd almost rioted. The music, based on Russian folk melodies, was so foreign to their ears. Move ahead about 40 years and you come to Dave Brubeck, whose 1959 album Time Out – especially my fave Blue Rondo a La Turk – demonstrates some of the most amazing rhythms ever recorded. Then come forward another 10 years or so and you hear the innovative work of Sly and the Family Stone, one of the most under-appreciated bands of the 1960s and 1970s – see the list at right for their greatest work. Lastly, I put Prince in this same tradition, especially his early work in the 1980s.

I am guessing most readers will already know and like one of these artists – which one will depend on your age, musical education, and preferences. But I think if you like any one of them, or interesting rhythms in general, then you will come to love the others as I have.

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