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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Louie Bellson 1924-2009

The man Duke Ellington called "the world's greatest drummer" is no more. Louie Bellson (born Luigi Balassoni) passed away in Los Angeles on Saturday at the age of 84.

A giant of the swing era, Bellson was discovered by fellow drum legend Gene Krupa in 1942, and went on to play in the orchestras of Harry James, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman at the height of the big band glory days. In the '50s, he was a valuable component of the Ellington band, even composing a number of tunes for the group.

Bellson was married to pop singer Pearl Bailey, and the two were a high-profile interracial couple during some of America's most tumultuous years in terms of race relations. Bailey passed on in 1990.

In addition to his big band work, Bellson also worked briefly with Ella Fitzgerald, and was a regular on Norman Granz' Jazz at the Philharmonic, appearing with the likes of Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.

A dynamic soloist known for pioneering the use of two bass drums, Bellson was the recipient of both a Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Living Jazz Legend Award from the JFK Center for the Performing Arts. He had remained active up until fracturing his hip in November, releasing his final album last year.

1 comment:

Nick Mondello said...

Bellson was a consummate musician and a phenomenal drummer, composer and arranger. A treasure, for sure. We have lost the beat.

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