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Louie Bellson 1924-2009
 


Country : Rock Falls, Illinois
Profession : Drummer
Date of birth : 1924-07-06
Date of death : 2009-02-14
Cause of Death : Parkinson's disease

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LouisBellson

Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni (6 July 1924 – 14 February 2009), better known by the stage name Louie Bellson (his own preferred spelling, although he is often seen in sources as Louis Bellson), was an Italian-American jazz drummer. He was a composer, arranger, bandleader, and jazz educator, and is credited with pioneering the use of two bass drums.

Bellson was an internationally-acclaimed artist who performed in most of the major capitals around the world. Bellson and his first wife, the late actress and singer Pearl Bailey (married 1952-1990), had the second highest number of appearances at the White House (only Bob Hope had more). He was a vice president at Remo, a drum company.


Biography

Louie Bellson was born in Rock Falls, Illinois in 1924 and started playing drums at three years of age. At age 15, he pioneered the double-bass drum set-up. His detailed sketch earned him an 'A' in his high school art class. At age 17, he triumphed over 40,000 drummers to win the Slingerland National Gene Krupa contest.

In 1943, he performed with the Benny Goodman band and Peggy Lee in The Powers Girl, the first of his many film appearances. He also appeared in 20th Century Fox's classic The Gang's All Here (1943) in the orchestra while Carmen Miranda sang "Paducah". Bellson 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 the Howard Hawks film A Song Is Born (1948).

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 he left Ellington to be her musical director. Bellson and Bailey had two daughters, Dee Dee J. Bellson (born about 1961) and Debra Hughes. Their marriage would last until Bailey's death in 1990. About 1992, he married his second wife, Francine. Trained as a physicist and engineer at MIT, Francine Bellson became his manager. The union lasted until his death in 2009.

Later in the 1950s and 1960s, he performed with Jazz at the Philharmonic or J.A.T.P., Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington again, and Harry James again, as well as appearing on several Ella Fitzgerald studio albums.

He performed and/or recorded scores of albums (approximately 200) as a leader, co-leader or sideman with such renowned musicians and leaders such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Norman Granz' J.A.T.P. (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 Tormé, Joe Williams, Wayne Newton and film composer John Williams.

Over the years, Bellson took several bandleader's holidays to play under the direction of other leaders or to lead someone else's band. During the 1960s, he rejoined Ellington for his Emancipation Proclamation Centennial stage production, My People, the motion picture soundtrack of Assault on a Queen (1966), and for what Ellington called "the most important thing I have ever done" — his Concerts of Sacred Music. In 1966, Bellson toured briefly with both Basie and ex-boss Harry James. A few years later, renowned drummer Buddy Rich (referred to by many as "the world's greatest drummer" over the years) paid Bellson a supreme drummer-to-drummer/bandleader compliment by asking him to lead his band on tour while he (Rich) was temporarily disabled by a back injury. Bellson proudly accepted.

He also recorded extensively and led his own bands (occasionally maintaining separate bands on each coast). His sidemen have included Blue Mitchell, Don Menza, Larry Novak, John Heard, Clark Terry, Pete and Conte Candoli, and Snooky Young. He was equally effective as a big band drummer and as a small group drummer. In 2006 a new album appeared, The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson and the Jazz Ballet.

In May 2007, Bellson recorded a number of his compositions and arrangements for big band, featuring Clark Terry on Flugelhorn, with Kenny Washington and Sylvia Cuenca on drums. The big band was manned by the members of Clark Terry's Big Band. The music was recorded in Studio A at Clinton Recording Studios in New York City. The resultant album, Louie and Clark Expedition 2 was released in January, 2008.

Bellson led his own orchestra almost steadily for more than forty years. His last band was called the Big Band Explosion.

On February 14, 2009, Bellson died at age 84 from complications of Parkinson's disease.

Compositions and arrangements

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. Not many knew that Bellson was also a poet and a lyricist. His one Broadway venture, Portofino (1958), was a resounding flop that closed after three performances.

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

In addition, "The London Suite" (recorded on 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 lyrics penned by Bellson. Part One is the band's rousing "Carnaby Street", a collaboration with Jack Hayes.

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 BIS.

Drum tutoring

Bellson was known throughout his career to conduct drum and band clinics at high schools, colleges and music stores. Aimed at student musicians of all ages, they are known to be attended as much by many professional musicians as well as by youngsters and aspiring drummers.

Bellson maintained a tight schedule of clinics and performances of both big bands and small bands in colleges, clubs and concert halls. In between, he continued to record and compose, resulting in more than 100 albums and more than 300 compositions. Bellson's Telarc debut recording, Louie Bellson And His Big Band: Live From New York, was released in June 1994. He also created new drum technology for Remo, Inc., of which he was vice-president.

Bellson received his Doctor of Humane Letters in 1985 at Northern Illinois University. As of 2005, among other performing activities, Bellson had visited his home town of Rock Falls, Illinois every July for Louie Bellson Heritage Days, a weekend in his honor close to his July 6th birthday, with receptions, music clinics and other performances by Bellson. At the 2004 event celebrating his 80th birthday, Bellson said, appropriately for the inventor and pioneer of double-bass drumming, "I'm not that old; I'm 40 in this leg, and 40 in the other leg."  He also celebrated his birthday every year at the River Music Experience in Davenport, Iowa.

Awards

Among Bellson's numerous accolades, he had 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. 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. Bellson was a six-time Grammy Award nominee.

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

 

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