Katherine Kennicott Davis, who has over 600 songs and hymns for choirs to her credit, composed "The Carol of the Drum" in 1941. Within 10 years, it was popularly known as "The Little Drummer Boy." For more about the history of this carol, I refer you to the very excellent summary, History of Christmas Carols: Little Drummer Boy by Penelope Hart (aka: GoodLady).
Due to the carol's origins in choir music, most recordings of "The Little Drummer Boy" seem to focus on orchestral arrangement or vocal aesthetics (see your favorite choir, Josh Groban, Rosemary Clooney, the Celtic Woman performance, and other artists). The next subset of recordings focuses on popular artists and unusual pairings, such as Bing Crosby and David Bowie in 1977). But for a song nominally about a drummer, precious few recordings seem to emphasize drumming (though there is this version with a nice drum solo).
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But in December 2002, I was fortunate to witness the debut performance of a new musical theater production called Striking 12. This holiday show by the folk-pop-rock trio known as GrooveLily told the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s "Little Match Girl" within the setting of a contemporary story about a guy who hates New Year's Eve and vows to stay at home to avoid it. I'm sure you're wondering what the heck either story has to do with our Drummer Boy. I'm getting to that.
Keyboardist Brendan Milburn plays the New Year's Eve grouch and the narrator of "Little Match Girl" (because he is reminded of the story and so pulls out his handy-dandy Hans Christian Andersen Compendium. Everyone has one of those, right?). Valerie Vigoda, who plays a six-string electric violin called a "Viper," portrays a young woman peddling light bulbs that counter Seasonal Affective Disorder (or S.A.D.), the voice of an ex-girlfriend, and the Little Match Girl herself. Drummer Gene Lewin gives voice to "post-nasal drip guy," a guy who dismisses the Little Match Girl, and -- in a rather comedic turn -- the little girl's dead grandmother. Near the end of the show, Lewin complains that Milburn and Vigoda got all the choice roles and, by the way, "I didn't want to do 'The Little Match Girl'! I wanted to do 'The Little Drummer Boy'!" And so they cut to an upbeat, jazzy rendition of today's tune. And Lewin's jazz drumming roots are on full display!
Now, I have a recording of GrooveLily's version of "The Little Drummer Boy," but it was only available as part of the special demo version of Striking 12 from its initial run at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia. So I could not find a video to embed in this post, or even point you to a download link. But I really wanted to share this song with you, so I uploaded it to my SoundCloud account. You can, however, get the actual release of Striking 12 (which includes the wonderful "Give the Drummer Some") at Amazon or on the band's website.