Louis Bellson
(b. July 26, 1924 - d. February 14, 2009)

Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni was an American jazz drummer.
 
Referred to by Leonard Feather as "one of the most phenomenal drummers in history," Louie Bellson 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.
 
Duke Ellington called him "the world's greatest drummer," and Bellson, lived up to the description. 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 conveyed on the drums, stands next to only Buddy Rich as the total technician.
 
Between 1943 and 1952, Bellson performed with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Duke Ellington (for whom he wrote Skin Deep and The Hawk Talks). In 1952, he married Pearl Bailey and left Ellington to be her musical director. Later in the 1950s and 60s he performed with Jazz at the Philharmonic, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, Ellington again, and James again, as well as appearing on several Ella Fitzgerald studio albums.

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

He 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' Jazz at the Philharmonic, 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.

Bellson  was voted into the Halls of Fame for both Modern Drummer magazine and the Percussive Arts Society. In June 1993, he performed Tomus I, II, III with the Washington Civic Symphony in historic Constitution Hall. A combination of full symphony orchestra, big-band ensemble and 80-voice choir, Tomus had been a collaboration of music by Bellson and lyrics by his late wife, Pearl Bailey.

Throughout his career, Louie Bellson devoted as much time as possible to drum and band clinics at high schools, colleges and music stores. Aimed at student musicians of all ages, there were frequently as many professional musicians in attendance as there were youngsters, all eager and fascinated by the magic of the Bellson touch. Critic Leonard Feather enthused, "Musicians and public alike respect him as a drummer without peer in technique, taste and originality; and as a composer whose works are a consistently effective fusion of melodic, rhythmic and harmonic ideas."

Bellson led his own orchestra almost steadily for more than forty years. In his Big Band Explosion, there was zest, humor, fervor and exultation. Everybody was having a good time, as well they should, inspired by their drummer-leader. One of his former employers understood: 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's numerous accolades are legend. He was 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 was a four-time Grammy Award nominee.

In January 1994, Bellson received the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. 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."

 

 

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