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 Wednesday, 23 July 2014
Big Band Drum Pioneer Louie Bellson Dies at 84 PDF Print
Written by Don Berryman   
Monday, 16 February 2009
"Louie Bellson has all the requirements for perfection in his craft. He is the world's greatest drummer." - Duke Ellington
Louie Bellson, Cat Anderson, Clark Terry. At the Palomar Supper Club, April 19, 1952, with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Photo courtesy of the Fraser MacPherson estate.

Drum legend Louie Bellson passed away on on Feb 14, 2009. He was 84 years old. Winner of a Gene Krupa talent contest while a teenager, Bellson had a glorious big band career that lasted over 65 years, starting with the big bands of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and the Duke Ellington Orchestra and continuing through his final recording, Louie & Clark Expedition 2, with Clark Terry released last year. In 1994 Bellson was awarded and NEA Jazz Master fellowship. In 1998,  Bellson was hailed (along with Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones and Max Roach) as one of four “Living Legends of Music” when he received the American Drummers Achievement Award from the Zildjian Company. Bellson holds four honorary doctorates, the latest from DePaul University in 2001. In March 2007, Bellson and 35 other jazz greats received the Living Jazz Legends Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. In June 2007, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers inducted Bellson as a Living Legend in the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame.

Referred to by Duke Ellington as "not only the world's greatest drummer…[but also] the world's greatest musician," Louie Bellson has expressed himself on drums since age three. At 15, he pioneered the double bass drum set-up, and two years later he triumphed over 40,000 drummers to win the Gene Krupa drumming contest.

Bellson has performed on more than 200 albums as one of the most sought-after big band drummers, working with such greats as Duke Ellington (who recorded many of Bellson's compositions), Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Louie Armstrong, and Lionel Hampton. He toured with Norman Granz's all-star Jazz at the Philharmonic, and worked with many vocalists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams, and his late wife, Pearl Bailey, for whom he served as musical director. He also appeared in several films in the 1940s, including The Power Girl, The Gang's All Here, and A Song is Born.

A prolific composer, Bellson has more than 1,000 compositions and arrangements to his name, embracing jazz, swing, orchestral suites, symphonic works, and ballets. As an author, he has published more than a dozen books on drums and percussion, and is a six-time Grammy Award nominee. In 1998, he was hailed -- along with Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach -- as one of four "Living Legends of Music" when he received the American Drummers Achievement Award from the Zildjian Company. Bellson also is a highly sought-after educator, giving music and drum workshops and clinics, teaching not only his dynamic drumming technique but also the jazz heritage. He has been awarded four honorary doctoral degrees from Northern Illinois University, Denison University, Augustana College, and DePaul University.

In 2003, a historical landmark was dedicated at his birthplace in Rock Falls, Illinois, inaugurating an annual three-day celebration there in his honor. Continuing to compose and record, his 2005 recording, The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson, showcases his prowess for blending orchestral music, choir, and big band. In 2007, Bellson was one of 36 musicians receiving the Living Jazz Legend Award from the Kennedy Center and one of three honored as ASCAP Jazz Living Legends by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. He continues to perform with his big band after more than 65 years onstage, still thrilling audiences worldwide.

Accoridng to his website,, there are tenative plans are for an L.A. area funeral, followed by funeral and burial in Moline, Illinois, his boyhood home.

Louie Bellson bio was adapted from the National Endowment for the Arts

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