Louie Bellson
July 6, 1924 - February 14, 2009

Louie Bellson...
Duke Ellington called him "the world's greatest drummer," and that he was...member of the "BIG THREE":
Louie Bellson - Gene Krupa - Buddy Rich.

He was a composer, arranger, bandleader, tireless jazz educator, pioneered the use of two bass drums, and in terms of the speed of his hands and feet and the wonderful, percussive "ideas" he conveys on the drums, stands next to only Buddy Rich as the total technician.

Referred to by Leonard Feather as "one of the most phenomenal drummers in history," Louie Bellson has expressed himself on the drums since he was three years old. At 15, he pioneered the double-bass-drum set-up. His detailed sketch earned him an 'A' in his high school art class. At 17, he triumphed over 40,000 drummers to win the Slingerland National Gene Krupa contest.

As an internationally-acclaimed artist, he has performed in most of the major capitals around the world. With the exception of Bob Hope, who has made the most White House appearances, Bellson holds, along with his late wife Pearl Bailey, the second highest number of White House appearances.

He has performed and/or recorded scores of albums (approximately 200) as a leader, co-leader or sideman with such greats as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Norman Granz' J.A.T.P., Benny Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Hank Jones, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, Louie Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Shelly Manne, Billy Cobham, James Brown, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennett, Pearl Bailey, Mel Torme, Joe Williams and Wayne Newton.

Over the years, Louie has taken several bandleader's holidays to play under the direction of other leaders or to lead someone else's band. During the '60s, he rejoined Ellington for his Emancipation Proclamation Centennial stage production, "My People", the motion picture soundtrack of "Assault on a Queen," and for what Ellington called "the most important thing I have ever done"—his Concerts of Sacred Music. In 1966, Louie toured briefly with both Basie and ex-boss Harry James. A few years later, Buddy Rich paid Louie the supreme drummer-to-drummer/bandleader compliment. Rich asked Bellson to lead his (Buddy's) band on tour while he was temporarily disabled by a back injury. Louie proudly accepted.

In 1942, he performed with the Benny Goodman band and Peggy Lee in "The Power Girl", the first of his many film appearances. Louie was 24 and a veteran of a U. S. Army band when he joined Danny Kaye, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnett, Benny Carter, Mel Powell, Kenny Dorharn, Harry Babasin, Al Hendrickson, Buck Washington, and Goodman for Howard Hawks' "A Song Is Born," still a recurring treat on TV's late, late shows.

As a prolific creator of music, both written and improvised, his compositions and arrangements (in the hundreds) embrace jazz, jazz/rock/fusion, romantic orchestral suites, symphonic works and a ballet. Little known to many of his listeners, the versatile Mr. Bellson is also a poet and a lyricist.

As an author, he has published more than a dozen books on drums and percussion. He is currently at work with his biographer on a book chronicling his remarkable career and bearing the same name as one of his compositions—"Skin Deep".

Bellson's numerous accolades are legion. He has been voted into the Halls of Fame for both Modern Drummer magazine and the Percussive Arts Society. Yale University named him a Duke Ellington Fellow in 1977. He received an honorary Doctorate from Northern Illinois University in 1985. He performed his original concert, Tomus I, II, III with the Washington Civic Symphony in historic Constitution Hall in 1993. He received the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994. Additionally, Louie Bellson is a four-time Grammy Award nominee.

In addition, The London Suite (recorded in his album, Louie in London) was performed at the Hollywood Pilgrimage Bowl before a record-breaking audience. The three-part work includes a choral section in which a 12-voice choir sings exquisitely sensitive lyrics by Bellson. Part One is the band's rousing Carnaby Street, a collaboration with Jack Hayes.

Bellson has led his own orchestra almost steadily for more than forty years. In his present Big Band Explosion, there is zest, humor, fervor and exultation. Everybody is having a good time, as well they should, inspired by their drummer-leader. One of his former employers understands. The distinguished Duke Ellington said, "Louie Bellson has all the requirements for perfection in his craft. He is the world's greatest drummer."

Bellson received his Doctor of Humane Letters in 1985 at Northern Illinois University. In 1987, at the Percussive Arts Society convention in Washington, D. C., Bellson and Harold Farberman performed a major orchestral work titled, Concerto for Jazz Drummer and Full Orchestra, the first piece ever written specifically for jazz drummer and full symphony orchestra. This work was recorded by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England, and was released by the Swedish label, B. I. S.

Bellson has been voted into the Halls of Fame for both Modern Drummer magazine and the Percussive Arts Society. In June1993, he performed Tomus I, II, III with the Washington CivicSymphony in historic Constitution Hall. A combination of fullsymphony orchestra, big-band ensemble and 80-voice choir,Tomus had been a collaboration of music by Bellson and lyricsby his late wife, Pearl Bailey.

In January 1994, Bellson received the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award from the national Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. As one of three recipients, Bellson was lauded by NEA chair Jane Alexander who said, "These colossal talents have helped write the history of jazz in America."

Louie passed away in peace on Feb 14, 2009.

© Shawn Martin

© Shawn Martin

Francine Bellson

Freddie Gruber - Louie Bellson - Stan Levey

Roy Haynes - Armand Zildjian - Elvin Jones - Louie Bellson - Max Roach

thanks for your visit