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February 16, 2009

Jazz Drummer Louis Bellson Dies

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz music news, deaths

Louis Bellson

Louis Bellson
1924-2009

Master Drummer Helped Create the Footprint for Jazz

Louis Bellson, the world famous jazz drummer who helped establish the footprint for jazz music in America, has died at the age of 84 in Los Angeles.

The jazz musician, composer, arranger, bandleader, and educator is credited with pioneering the use of two bass drums.

Louis Bellson (he reportedly preferred Louie) won the 1940 Slingerland National Gene Krupa drum contest at the age of 17, beating out 40,000 drummers and launching a career that began with the Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Harry James big bands.

He became internationally known during the early ’50s for work with Duke Ellington, gaining attention for both his performances and his compositions, which included Skin Deep and the Hawk Talks. He left Ellington’s band to work as musical director for singer Pearl Bailey, whom he wed in 1953. The marriage lasted until Bailey’s death in 1990.

Bellson has performed and/or recorded an estimated 200 albums as a leader, co-leader or sideman with renowned jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie, and film composer John Williams, among the many. Bellson’s Telarc debut recording, Louie Bellson And His Big Band: Live From New York, was released in June 1994.

The prolific writer produced numerous jazz compositions and arrangements as well as orchestral suites, symphonic works and a ballet. Bellson is also a published author, having written more than a dozen books on drums and percussion.

A highly regarded educator, throughout his career Bellson conducted drum and band clinics at high schools, colleges and music stores.

A six-time Grammy Award nominee, among his many honours Louis Bellson received his Doctor of Humane Letters in 1985 at Northern Illinois University, and 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, and he received an honorary Doctorate from Northern Illinois University in 1985. In January 1994, Bellson received the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts (1994).

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