Skip to comments.Louie Bellson 1924-2009 - Legendary Drummer Passes Away
Posted on 02/16/2009 3:01:45 PM PST by My Favorite Headache
Peter Erskine What words to say when an immortal one leaves us? Louie Bellson had been "there" for my entire life, always legendary, elegant and exemplar. There was Louie in the Ellington band, serving as role model that drummers can be composers. There was Louie, married to Pearl ~ and later to Francine ~ serving as pioneering role model that harmony could be found on the bandstand as well as between races, in marriage and in music. There was Louie, consummate gentleman, serving as role model that graciousness is hip as well as possible in jazz and in this modern world. Louie, the quintessential timekeeper who always had time for everyone. Its hard to imagine a kinder and more giving man than Louie, all the more extraordinary because of his sky-high talents and abilities.
Louies drumming could win the day by a knockout punch or a series of subtle whispers.
There was Louie in that wonderful Rogers catalog, thumbed through countless times by this young drummer upon which I eventually managed to get my own Dyna-Sonic snare drum just like the one Louie used to play. I still thumbed through that catalog afterwards for inspiration, dreaming while looking at the photos of Louie in action.
And the sound that man got from the drums!
Most of us expected, I think, that Louie would always be there for us.
I wrote down a list of words this morning after I got the news ... Louie Bellson: Great, gracious, god-like, a giant, gee-whiz-wow ...drumming guardian, true Gentleman! Giving, gentle, a gift to the world of music ... go, Gene, go! Gallant, glowing ... genius, genial, always generous. All good things, and now ... gone.
Rest in Peace, Louie, and know that you left the world a better place.
Dave Weckl Louie Bellson was one of my early inspirations when growing up and learning how to play the instrument. His playing in both big bands and small groups provided a very inspirational learning experience, and I always got tremendous joy listening to and learning from him.
I eventually got to meet Louie, and spend time talking with him at events where we both attended and performed. He was one of the sweetest persons to ever walk the face of the earth, and was so supportive and genuinely excited about all of us younger players coming up, trying to carry the torch that he and so many other players of his stature had lit for us.
Louie's passing reminds us that the cycle of life does not let us do what we love to do forever. Louie played his heart out till the end, yet more inspiration from this great man, and helps to teach me to stay healthy and play every show like it's the last one, with the thought of Louie and so many other great players in the history of the drum set in popular music in my mind as I play.
Thanks Louie for all the love, inspiration and swinging!
Dr. Bruce H. Klauber: Louie Bellson, master drummer, composer, arranger, educator and the last of the certifiable swing era percussion stars, passed away on Februrary 14 at the age of 84.
As a player and as a human being, there will never, ever be another like him. Whether at a clinic, a master class, recording session, or after a performance, he took the time to answer every question, sign every autograph, and fulfill every request. He spoke ill of no one.
His playing was just like he was. Beyond category, eras or labels. Stylistically, his was an "all-purpose" way of playing that fit with everything and everyone. Though grounded in swing, and indeed, his first major job was with Benny Goodman, this was an artist who played with everyone from Louis Armstrong and Harry James to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Technically, most percussion experts agree that he was the only one to equal Buddy Rich's speed and dexterity. And via his ground-breaking use of two bass drums, he took Buddy's technique a step beyond.
But whatever he played, and no matter what the setting, he never let his technique get in the way of taste. He played for the situation, and in his long and varied career, "the situation" included a lot of session work, backing the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr. and Tony Bennett, subbing for "The Tonight Show" orchestra, or acting as musical director for his first wife, entertainer Pearl Bailey.
Born Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni on July 6, 1924, in Rock Falls, Illinois, Bellson's interest in drums began at the age of three. As a teen, he came up with the idea of using another bass drum as a part of the drum kit and in fact, his design for it won him an 'A' in high school art class (the problem was getting a drum company to build a kit to his specs, until the Gretsch Drum Company stepped forward several years later). In 1941, he won the national Gene Krupa Drum Contest sponsored by Slingerland drums, beating out more than 40,000 other drummers.
His first major job was with the big band of Ted FioRito, until Benny Goodman grabbed him in 1942. During the 1940s, he spent most of his time in the bands of Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, with several timeouts to lead his own small groups.
In the early 1950s, Louie Bellson made history.
In 1951, Duke Ellington was running into problems. Three of his biggest stars--drummer Sonny Greer, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges and trombonist Lawrence Brown left Duke to work in a small group led by Hodges. The savvy Ellington raided the Harry James band that year--the caper was known as "the great James robbery"--and enticed altoist Willie Smith, valve trombonist Juan Tizol and drummer Bellson to join the Ellington band. The drummer is generally credited as reviving Duke's band and inspiring it to swing like it never did before. And, Duke encouraged Bellson's composing and arranging talents, performing and recording what became two, Duke Ellington hits, "Skin Deep" and "The Hawk Talks."
A year later, he made national headlines when he married entertainer Pearl Bailey. In 1952, tolerance for interracial marriage was not at a particularly high level, in this country, and those early years, spent in the public spotlight, were not easy for them. Still, the union flourished and lasted until Bailey's death in 1990.
Over the years, he returned to the Ellington fold from time to time on an as-needed basis, often for Duke's special Sacred Concerts. Likewise, he frequently deputized in the bands of Count Basie, Harry James, Woody Herman and countless others.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he became more involved in leading -- and composing and arranging for--his own orchestras, and in the jazz education movement. He's written over a dozen drum instruction books and participated in a number of videos. Since the 1970s, he's been the recipient of numerous awards, among the first being named a "Duke Ellington Fellow" by Yale University in 1977.
He continued playing, composing and recording until just a few months ago, with his final CD a collaboration with trumpeter Clark Terry.
Hudson Music was involved in a number of performance-oriented and instructional projects with Louie Bellson through the years. And he narrated the monumental, "Legends of Jazz Drumming" videos. Whatever the project, he was, without exception, knowledgeable, thoughtful, enthusiastic, tireless, encouraging, funny, and always swinging. In one session of filming. Bellson commented on almost 100 drummers in jazz history, including a number of contemporary players. He knew what they all contributed, and spoke of how they all were and are important. Like Gene Krupa, Bellson was a perpetual student, always listening and always learning. Personally? He personified the world "gentleman."
Louie Bellson is survived by his wife, Francine, who helped guide her husband's career since their marriage in 1991. "Francine has been a blessing to me," Bellson said some years back. "I'm a man who got two blessings--with Pearl 38 years and I thought that was the end but--here comes Francine. She's been so great. When Pearl passed away, the first two years I was OK during the day, but at nighttime when I wasn't performing, I was lonesome. All of sudden Francine came, and I thought I was hallucinating. But she brought me back to reality again."
Rest in peace, Maestro. And keep swingin'.
Donny Osborne (Mel Torme Drummer) Louie was a wonderful, giving guy. For example, when I was on the road with Mel in Kansas and Louie was at another club with a day off, called him to help me locate a set for the night because the house kit was bad news. Louie simply said, 'Problem solved, use mine.' As a drummer, human being, an all around player he was an amazing guy.
When Mel and I used to play Disneyworld, Louie would sometimes be playing on the property and we would go to the condo and hang out with him because he was always accessible. Buddy and Louie were great friends and were with each other from the very beginning. One of the first things I heard them do was 'Hi-Fi Drums.' I wish I had that record today. It was unbelievable.
Buddy and Louie had great admiration and respect for each other. Buddy was a great guy. He was simple and emotional. When they got together, Buddy's entire hard demeanor was dropped. Never a bad word was said between them.
Amazing work with Duke Ellington.
Easily one of the greatest drummers ever to live and grace our ears. Top 15 for sure in all genres I would put him up against.
Ellington called Bellson “the world’s greatest drummer.” ...and for good reason.
Early Nov, Mr. Bellson suffered a fall in the L.A. area and was taken to the Hospital and had been in rehab for it ever since.
The hip thing again. It seems when seniors break their hip...it’s just about game over.
Wasn’t he married to Pearl Bailey?
Exceptional drummer. Exceptional person. As a musician,,,, I have tears in my eyes. Rest in peace!
Don’t forget the 4 stick drum solo on Johnny Carson...I remember as a 14 yr old kid at the time in 88...WTF WAS THAT?!?
I grew up in the church of Neil Peart...so when I saw that...I began questioning who was really at the top of the food chain.
A sad day indeed. Though I am sure they are all jammin in heaven tonight.
Yes, excellent. He also performed at the White House more than anyone except Bob Hope.
It does seem so. Why is that? What is so special about the hip?
Absolutely one of the best that ever was...
I still play on my Dynasonic! Yesterday as a matter of fact.
I think Louis was the FIRST double bass drummer on the scene. Ginger Baker...ha!
I think Bellson was the first double bass drummer. I think he was only 15 when he tried it.
Just the man anyway you look at it...however...there was a down side to the man...HUGE Obama supporter ;(
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