Louie Bellson, the great big band drummer and a veteran of performances and recordings with everyone from Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman to James Brown and Wayne Newton, passed away on Saturday.
He was 84, and suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. He had been recovering from a broken hip, resulting from a fall he suffered in November.
Bellson was truly a gifted and explosive drummer, and his career unofficially began at age 17, when he bested about 40,000 other trap-kit players in the Slingerland National Gene Krupa drumming contest.
I first heard Bellson, live, in the late ’70s, when he played with the UF Jazz Band in Gainesville. I recall being dazzled by his ability to use the entirety of his drum kit, his creativity as a soloist (long solos that were never boring), and his overall musicianship.
In addition to his work as a drummer, he wrote more than 1,000 compositions and penned more than a dozen instructional books, according to his web site.
Bellson’s most recent CD, in collaboration with trumpeter Clark Terry, another living legend, is Louie & Clark Expedition 2, released last year.
Jack Bowers, on the site All About Jazz, gave high praise to the CD: “Incredible. Who could have foreseen that drummer Louie Bellson and trumpeter Clark Terry, both of whom joined the celebrated Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1951, would be reunited for another high-powered big-band date in 2007. Even more amazing, what are the odds that Terry, who has turned eighty-seven, and Bellson, three years his junior, would still be playing like zealous teen-agers auditioning for their first gig.”
In 2006, the drummer released The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson and the Jazz Ballet.
Ellington once called Bellson “the world’s greatest drummer,” as Don Heckman notes in a piece published today in the Los Angeles Times.
Bellson, born Luigino Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni in Rock Falls, Illinois, was the only white member of the Ellington’s orchestra when he worked with that band from 1951 to 1953.
It was during that period that he met and married African-American singer Pearl Bailey; he later served as Bailey’s musical director and, in the ’60s, he again worked with Ellington. Bailey died in 1990, and the drummer later remarried.
Here’s additional info related to Bellson’s passing, from his web site:
Tentative plans are for an L.A. area funeral, followed by funeral and burial in Moline, Illinois, his boyhood home. Details forthcoming.
Send your Condolences and cards to:
Mrs. Louie Bellson
c/o Remo, Inc.
28101 Industry Drive
Valencia, CA 91355
Contributions in memory of Louie Bellson can be made to:
Emmanuel Baptist Church and mailed to Mrs. Bellson at the address above.