Louie Bellson Tribute

In Memoriam – February 15, 2009

We regret to announce the unexpected passing of Louie Bellson on Feb 14, 2009.

Please take a few moments to watch our short biography video, produced in conjunction with Zildjian, honoring Louie as part of the American Drummer Achievement Awards, as well as read the messages as part of our growing tribute to this legendary musician.

Louie and Duke Ellington
Louie and Duke Ellington

Remo Belli

Most of us interested in jazz as a musical form know and respect the name, Louie Bellson. Louie passed away on Saturday, February 14, 2009 at the age of 84. Louie’s professional career spanned a period of 67 years, in which he was able to successfully perform for and with some of the best jazz musicians of those years. Louie was indeed a role model for any aspiring drummer to follow. He will be missed.

Steve Gadd

Louie was a class act and a gentleman.

When I was young, the first guys I listened to were him, Gene and Buddy. And then I got to meet him when I was a kid and it meant a lot to me. I always looked forward to seeing him. It was a real honor to know him and I was thrilled that he got to know me.

Throughout his career, he raised the bar and kept it there the whole time. He was always at the top of his game.

Another thing that impressed me was his commitment to education. And that Louie never lost his love for playing and for sharing.

Louie was special and someone like him…you just don’t come across every day. I am going to miss him a lot and I know many other people will too.

John Beck (Professor Emeritus of Percussion Eastman School of Music)

I first met Louie Bellson in 1962 when he and I did a clinic together for Rogers Drums. It was at this clinic I introduced him to Steve Gadd. From that moment on, we remained friends often seeing each other at clinics, concerts and PASIC. Louie was a special person. Not only was he a remarkable musical drummer but his attitude, personality, sharing qualities and handsome appearance always made me feel special to be with him. He inspired thousands of drummers all over the world. I last saw Louie at PASIC ‘07. My students gave me a reception in honor of my upcoming retirement from Eastman in 2008. Louie showed up and gave a speech in my honor. I was so thrilled that tears came to my eyes. Louie could do that to you. I will never forget it nor will I ever forget Louie. Louie represents the best of the percussion community – THANK YOU, LOUIE, FOR ALL YOU TAUGHT US.

Dom Famularo, Louie and Steve Smith - Vancouver, 1995
Dom Famularo, Louie and Steve Smith – Vancouver, 1995

Steve Smith

Louie Bellson’s passing has left me with a pain in my heart. Louie had become a friend and mentor and I loved being able to call him on the phone and have an inspiring talk. It seems strange that I will no longer be able to do that. I miss the fact that Louie no longer inhabits this planet.

I met Louie Bellson for the first time in 1984 when I did a drum clinic with him and Billy Cobham. We all played together during that clinic and it was quite an intimidating experience for me. Louie was very gracious and did his best to put me at ease. Over the years, I did a number of Zildjian Weekend Workshops with Louie and I got to know him quite well. We stayed in touch over the phone and saw each other frequently at gigs, clinics, and trade shows.

Louie was the nicest man I have ever met, always complimentary and very open-minded. Of course I asked him to show me some of his moves on the drumset and he was very forthcoming and generous with his lessons. I learned a lot from him on how to truly listen to, and appreciate, the younger generations. He would ask me many questions about what I was playing and how I did it, and gave me the kind of encouraging feedback that was inspirational and helped me build confidence. I came to realize after awhile that he was modeling for me an approach to mentoring the next generation that was positive and encouraging. His influence on me has helped me to look for the positive and be open-minded with the younger generations, when sometimes as an older musician, it is not always obvious. Louie Bellson was one of the greatest drummers who ever lived and he was one of the greatest human beings that ever lived.

Drum Legend Louie Bellson
Drum Legend Louie Bellson

Peter Erskine

What words to say when an immortal one leaves us? Louie Bellson had been “there” for my entire life, always legendary, elegant and exemplar. There was Louie in the Ellington band, serving as role model that drummers can be composers. There was Louie, married to Pearl ~ and later to Francine ~ serving as pioneering role model that harmony could be found on the bandstand as well as between races, in marriage and in music. There was Louie, consummate gentleman, serving as role model that graciousness is hip as well as possible in jazz and in this modern world. Louie, the quintessential timekeeper who always had time for everyone. It’s hard to imagine a kinder and more giving man than Louie, all the more extraordinary because of his sky-high talents and abilities.

Louie’s drumming could win the day by a knockout punch or a series of subtle whispers.

There was Louie in that wonderful Rogers catalog, thumbed through countless times by this young drummer upon which I eventually managed to get my own Dyna-Sonic snare drum just like the one Louie used to play. I still thumbed through that catalog afterwards for inspiration, dreaming while looking at the photos of Louie in action.

And the sound that man got from the drums!

Most of us expected, I think, that Louie would always be “there” for us.

I wrote down a list of words this morning after I got the news …

Louie Bellson: Great, gracious, god-like, a giant, gee-whiz-wow …drumming guardian, true Gentleman! Giving, gentle, a gift to the world of music … go, Gene, go!

Gallant, glowing … genius, genial, always generous. All good things, and now … gone.

Rest in Peace, Louie, and know that you left the world a better place.

Love, Peter

The Drummers Roll Chart, by Louie Bellson
The Drummers Roll Chart, by Louie Bellson

Dave Weckl

Louie Bellson was one of my early inspirations when growing up and learning how to play the instrument. His playing in both big bands and small groups provided a very inspirational learning experience, and I always got tremendous joy listening to and learning from him.

I eventually got to meet Louie, and spend time talking with him at events where we both attended and performed. He was one of the sweetest persons to ever walk the face of the earth, and was so supportive and genuinely excited about all of us younger players coming up, trying to carry the torch that he and so many other players of his stature had lit for us.

Louie’s passing reminds us that the cycle of life does not let us do what we love to do forever. But his long and storied career teaches us to play our hearts out every day; to stay healthy and play every show like it’s the last one.

I will always remember Louie’s enthusiasm, work ethic, and commitment to excellence as I continue to play and produce music.

Thanks Louie for all the love, inspiration and swinging!

Louie and Kenny Aronoff
Louie and Kenny Aronoff

Kenny Aronoff

If you never met Louie, I want you to know he was one of the most happy, joyful, kind, humble, loving people I have ever met…. He was a great listener, and truly interested in YOU, and what YOU were doing and who YOU were….When I first met him in 1982 he didn’t know who I was, but he treated me like we were best friends. He was truly interested in ME… wow…

He made me feel so happy… That’s a rare and amazing quality… He was a happy man and therefore shared his happiness with everyone.

As a drummer/musician he was the very very best.. in a league of his own… There are a lot of drummers that are great and amazing.. Every drummer at any level has something unique and special about them, but Louie was on another planet… He was SO amazing and SO special…. that he created his own planet, his own world.. : ) He was was in a league of his own as a drummer, musician and technician.. but when you add his amazing qualities as a person…….well……. he was as PERFECT as one can be.

The first time I heard him play was when my dad played me the great recording “Skin Deep” on a Duke Ellington album which featured Louie… I was so amazed at his musicality on the drum set. His solo was so musical. Every note was perfect technically but even more important musically… It was like a perfect song… but on drums… What a great musician…. drummer and person….

Dom and Louie, NAMM 2007
Dom and Louie, NAMM 2007

Dom Famularo

In the presence of a King…

When you met Louie Bellson, you stepped into his world of greatness. Just meeting him, you were lifted with his smile, his positive words and his welcoming spirit. I first met Louie in 1971 backstage at a Buddy Rich concert. I was with my teachers Al Miller, Joe Morello and Jim Chapin. Louie hugged everyone…including me.

Louie set standards in every aspect of music and life. He always had a nice word to say about everyone and an uplifting feeling all the time. He played his heart in every note expressing his love of music to every listener. The consummate professional.

I performed with Louie and Steve Smith in Vancouver in 1995 with a powerful big band. The three of us played a finale on just snares with brushes up front and moved to our drum sets as the tune built up. Steve and I planned to switch drum sets during the final solo to make Louie laugh. Well, Louie jumped up and sat on Steve’s kit, then ran to my kit and played tremendous. He had us howling! This brought the people to their feet and Steve and I got the chance to play Louie’s double bass kit. This was like sitting in the King’s throne.

I have performed many events with him and was always in awe of his persona. I am a better person and musician from meeting Louie….forever grateful for his guidance and friendship. He recently sent me charts from his music library and asked me to keep his music alive. I am honored and humbled.

I ask you to listen to his music, watch his DVD’s and study from his books. It is through this that you will have been touched by an angel……our angel in drumming!

God gave us the gift of Louie Bellson …and his music will forever vibrate in nature’s wind and waves.

Dennis Chambers

Louie Bellson was a dear friend, a great family man, a great drummer, a great motivator and a great teacher.

But the most important thing about Mr. Bellson was he was a great human being who had the greatest love and passion for drumming and music. He was also a big fan of other drummers.

Louie Bellson from my heart, is gonna be truly missed, really missed.

Love you Louie.

Will Lee

Louie had such passion, he really practiced what he preached, “Play every show like it’s the last one” (I have to agree with him there)!

Once Louis sat in with Paul Shaffer and The World’s Most Dangerous Band (which was pre-CBS Orchestra) at a live performance at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. We were doing a song in which Anton Fig & Louis traded solos. Talk about playing a life’s worth of music in a few moments!!! I was grateful to have been a part of that “lifetime in a moment”. He was spectacular, and as everyone knows, one of the kindest men to ever grace the world of music.

Gregg Bissonette

Louie Bellson was not only one of my drum heroes…He was a very good friend and role model to me. I first met Louie in 1978 at the Witchita Jazz Festival when I travelled there with my college big band. I was playing at the festival in the North Texas State Big Band and Louie was appearing there with his AMAZING Louie Bellson Big Band. The highlight of the festival was when Buddy Rich’s big band and Louie’s big band played together on stage for the grand finale!! It was UNBELIEVABLE!!!!

Buddy and Louie were very close friends and they had a lot of mutual respect for each other. They ended the night’s show with a FANTASTIC drum duet that was INCREDIBLY musical. I spent countless hours of my college years playing over and over to Louie’s tremendous big band album “EXPLOSION!!”

He was also a good friend of my dad Bud Bissonete.. My dad passed away this past Oct 21, 2008, and Francine Bellson (Louie’s wife) told me yesterday that the last public event that Louie made it to was my Dad’s graveside burial and celebration of life service. What an honor..I know that my dad and Louie are hanging out in Heaven right now!!

One of the greatest thrills of my life was getting to play a big drum duet with Louie at the very FIRST Buddy Rich Memorial Tribute concert in 1989 on Long Island NY at the Westbury Music Fair (a great theatre in the round). This was a fantastic event that was the first in a series of many Buddy tribute concerts. Unfortunatley it was never recorded on audio or video. It featured Louie, Steve Gadd, Vinnie Coliauta, Dave Weckl, Joe Morello, Jim Chapin, Dom Famularo, Al Miller (a tremendous NY drummer who was also one of Buddy’s best friends,) Steve Arnold, and Danny Di Imperio (one of Maynard and Woody’s finest drummers with a GREAT house band made up of tons of Buddy alumni. Louie just absolutley tore it up with Buddy’s tribute Big Band!! Another great honor for me was getting to play a REALLY fun drum trio with Louie and Dennis Chambers at the 2nd Buddy Rich tribute concert that WAS filmed at the Wiltern Theatre a year later in 1990.

Francine and Louie were at my wedding in 1996 and they would honor me several times by coming to my gigs with my jazz quintet at Cafe Cordiale near where they lived in Sherman Oaks Ca. Cafe Cordiale was one of their favorite dinner/jazz night spots! A good friend of mine named Ronnie Berg, who was fifteen and had cancer, came from NY to my house in Los Angeles 1997. This trip for he and his very supportive parents was made possible by the Make A Wish Foundation. Louie, and many other members of the Woodland Hills Drum Club, (including Myron Grombacher, Simon Phillips, Tris Imboden, Hilary Jones, Tony Pia and myself spent the day playing side by side drum duets and hanging out with Ronnie who played all day and wore us all out!! Ronnie passed away just a few days after his 22nd birhtday..but Louie Bellson gave him one of the greatest drumming days of his life that day in 1997. Louie was ALL HEART!!!

Louie Bellson was a huge inspiration for me to play double bass drums (especially in a big band!). I was once told that Louie was the first drummer to record with 2 bass drums in 1946 on Duke Ellington’s Skin Deep!!

Years ago I asked Louie how he did it….He was then in his seventies and I said something like: “Louie…How do you do it? You have SO much energy and you are traveling around the world and playing with your big band and your small group, you do all kinds of great cd’s with your own groups and other artists, you do clinics all over the world, and you are in amazing physical shape!! His reply was something like this “Well you know..I eat right, exercize, I don’t drink much, I try to stay in good physical shape, but most importantly, I try to never let negative thoughts enter into my mind!!…I thought WOW…in the MUSIC business…with all of the ups and downs….yet the glass is always half FULL (not 1/2 empty) to Louie Bellson…What an incredible man, drumming hero and role model!! God Bless you Louie!!

Love, Your Pal, Gregg Bissonette

John DeChristopher (Avedis Zildjian Company)

I feel blessed to have known Louie, and to have so many wonderful memories of him. He made a huge impact on my life as well as my family’s. I can’t describe the feeling when he’d call to tell me how much he loved the cymbals I’d sent him, or to say “thanks” for sending him drumsticks. He was that kind of person – he said thank you, he appreciated little things, and he loved talking about drums and other drummers; he was simply a wonderful and kind human being.

Armand Zildjian told me a long time ago “always take care of Louie”. It was a pleasure, Armand…”

Paul Siegel, Rob Wallis and Louie Bellson
Paul Siegel, Rob Wallis and Louie Bellson

Paul Siegel (Hudson Music)

Louie Bellson was a person unlike any other I have ever known. Rob and I had the extremely good fortune of having worked with and gotten to know Louie, over a period of many years. Our first project together was for a DVD called “The Musical Drummer” which we shot in 1984. And in 1989 we were fortunate to have worked with him again, on one of the first Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concert DVDs.

Over the years we had the good fortune of seeing him often and of working with him on several occasions. And whenever we had a chance to cross paths with Louie it was never anything short of a real pleasure and an honor.

Louie, as everyone who has so generously contributed to this page has so eloquently expressed, was-in addition to being one of the most influential drummers of all time-the consummate gentlemen. Louie wasn’t one of the nicest people you’ve ever met. He was the nicest person you have ever met.

Something that always comes to mind for me, when I think about Louie, is how when he spoke at the Tribute to Steve Gadd that Zildjian hosted at Berklee School of Music in 2003, and Louie got up and spoke about having met Steve as a young drummers in Rochester many years before, he talked about Steve’s great contribution to Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Love [instead of Leave] Your Lover”. I have always thought that in some way that epitomized Louie.

We all loved him very much. He will be missed by all of us.

Rob Wallis and Louie Bellson
Rob Wallis and Louie Bellson

Rob Wallis (Hudson Music)

When I woke up to the news of Louie’s passing I was so deeply saddened. My first thoughts were that we lost a true gentleman and one of drumming’s Ambassadors.

Anyone that has ever met Louie knows what I am talking about, as it is hard to describe what a special, warm person he was. When I met him for the first time, I was in my late-twenties and he took to calling me “Robbie” for some reason-a name that I hadn’t used since my elementary school days. And that’s what he called me for the next 25 years.

In the 90’s, I brought my father to a studio session we were doing with Louie for the Legends of Jazz Drumming video, as he was a fan since Louie’s Dorsey and Goodman days. From that day on, everytime I saw Louie the first thing he said…”Robbie, how’s Dad”. That’s the kind of man he was.

Louie was such a gentle person. In all the years, I had never heard him say a negative word about anything. And he loved talking about music and playing the drums. As he was getting on in years, I was always amazed when I’d see him and he’d run down his schedule….70, 75, 80 years old and doing one-nighters all over the world.

I first met Louie in 1983 and had the good fortune to Co-Produce the “Musical Drummer” video he did for DCI Music Video in 1984. From that point on, whenever I saw him, it felt more like I was seeing family than anything.

Working with him in the studio gave me a chance to see him working in a way you couldn’t at a gig or a clinic. What I remember was how easy it all was. On that video shoot, Louie played in a number of styles, and all of them came easily and naturally. He swung the band like crazy whether it was a light, quick swing piece, a hard hitting big band approach or a grooving bossa-nova. He played each flawlessly, never needing a second take and always playing the right thing.

He played brushes as beautifully as they could be played. I remember to this day that I’d never seen anyone play them as gracefully. I have this image of his hands looking like an ice-skater, floating over the snare drum. And his hand technique was flawless. He had the kind of hand/wrist/finger control you tried to strive for. Picture perfect.

It was Louie’s friendship and support that helped Remo Belli launch his company and develop a drum head that could stand up to changes in weather….and the plastic drum head was born.

And one of the things that always left such a big impact on me was Louie’s dedication to drum education. I am not really sure who started the idea of doing drum clinics in music shops, but I know that Louie was among the first, out there doing them since the 60’s. He also was so active as an author, writing some exceptional drum books.

In 1998 I had the joy of working on a short documentary that was presented at the Zildjian ADAA Show honoring Louie, Roy, Elvin and Max. Louie hadn’t seen the piece until it was introduced to a packed house by Bill Cosby. After the Show, Louie was so grateful for the work the team had done. For all of us, it was such an honor to have been able to work on that piece. (This clip is part of our tribute to Louie-see above).

One of my favorite Louie stories had to do with his early clinics. He liked to bring up someone out of the audience at the end of the clinic for (what was popular in those days) a “drum battle”. He was at a small shop in upstate New York and Louie’s friend, John Beck, told him he had a teenage student that was really strong….At the end of Louie’s presentation he called up this young drummer who Louie said “blew me away, he was really something” …..The young man was Steve Gadd and at the Zildjian ADAA Show, Steve was there to honor Louie in his performance. A perfect circle.

Lou, you enriched the lives of everyone you touched.


Dave Black

Louie was the reason I moved to California in 1977. When I was in high school, he was the guest artist with my high school jazz band in 1976. Even though he was offered the opportunity to stay at a hotel, he chose to stay at our house for two nights. That gesture alone says a lot about the man, and was the first indication he was someone very special. Let’s be honest: Given a choice, most of us would choose to stay in a hotel, not because of a lack of interest in sharing our knowledge and/or talent with a young person or band starting out, but because we all like our own space and privacy. I don’t know many people who would have agreed to stay at someone’s house without ever having met them before. Not Louie. He wanted to stay with “the kid drummer” and that was the beginning of a personal and professional relationship that lasted over 30 years.

As a result of that concert, he encouraged me to come out to LA to study with him. I had already been accepted to two other major music universities but decided half way through my senior year in high school to take advantage of his invitation. It was a big gamble for me, as I didn’t know if he really meant the things he said or if he was just being kind. I’m thankful I made that decision.

Louie opened up so many doors for me. Because I didn’t have a car until my senior year in college, he would pick me up at the CSUN dorms in his orange Corvette and would take me to a lot of the recording sessions, club dates, concert venues and festivals he played during my college years and far beyond. As a result of accompanying him on those many gigs, I was introduced to Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich and several other well-known musicians. Over the years, our professional lives merged and we went on to write books together. We also had our own jazz band series with Barnhouse for many years and he recorded a few of the tunes we had written together on his commercially-released CDs. I also caught the garter belt at his second wedding to Francine in 1992. He was really like a second father to me in those early years. As he got older, the roles sort of reversed and I would pick him up and take him to some of the venues he needed to be at. I was honored to be able to return the favor.

The following story is one I will never forget, as it really captures the essence of who he truly was. I remember going with him to one of his performances. Because he sometimes wore pants without pockets when he performed, he had no place to put his wallet. After this particular performance, a large number of people wanted his autograph and so he handed me his coat and some folded up money to hold on to. After we left the venue, a few of us (including Louie) went out for a bite to eat and when the check came, he insisted on paying and asked for the money I was holding. To my shock, I no longer had it. I came to realize that when I put the money in my back pocket, I must have pushed a small part of my shirt down into the pocket along with it. When I pulled my shirt up, the money must have fallen out onto the ground. I was obviously very upset and embarrassed, but in typical Louie fashion, he simply said “That’s okay, I hope who ever found it needed it.” Although I tried to pay him back several times after that incident, he never would accept it.

Louie, we will miss you dearly but are thankful you left the world a much better place for having graced us with your presence.

Love, Dave Black

Terry Bozzio, Dennis Chambers, Adam Nussbaum, Ginger Baker and Louie, MD Fest 1993
Terry Bozzio, Dennis Chambers, Adam Nussbaum, Ginger Baker and Louie, MD Fest 1993

Adam Nussbaum

Louis Bellson was acknowledged as a great musician and drummer by all that appreciate the instrument. DUKE knew. We all know that!

I also got to know this gentlemen and remember him as being one of the nicest and most encouraging human beings that I ever met who kept his ears and heart open. A great inspiration!!! God Bless Louis!

Jason Bittner

When I was a little kid, as far as big name drummers go, the first guys I ever heard about were Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Louie Bellson. My teacher at the time was a huge Bellson fan, so obviously that made me focus a little more on Louie and his history, not too mention he had TWO bass drums on his kit – very cool!!! Technically this is the man that FIRST inspired me to get another kick drum, and boy could he play them.

I had the opportunity to see Louie at the Modern Drummer Festival in 1993 and he was smokin!! It gave me the confidence to know that you can keep kicking ass no matter how old you are!!! I’m just sad that I never got a chance to meet him and personally thank him for being such an inspiration! However, I’m sure he’s in a better place now with his beloved wife Pearl alongside him once again!!

Dr. Bruce H. Klauber (Legends of Jazz)

Louie Bellson, master drummer, composer, arranger, educator and the last of the certifiable swing era percussion stars, passed away on Februrary 14 at the age of 84.

As a player and as a human being, there will never, ever be another like him. Whether at a clinic, a master class, recording session, or after a performance, he took the time to answer every question, sign every autograph, and fulfill every request. He spoke ill of no one.

His playing was just like he was. Beyond category, eras or labels. Stylistically, his was an “all-purpose” way of playing that fit with everything and everyone. Though grounded in swing, and indeed, his first major job was with Benny Goodman, this was an artist who played with everyone from Louis Armstrong and Harry James to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Technically, most percussion experts agree that he was the only one to equal Buddy Rich’s speed and dexterity. And via his ground-breaking use of two bass drums, he took Buddy’s technique a step beyond.

But whatever he played, and no matter what the setting, he never let his technique get in the way of taste. He played for the situation, and in his long and varied career, “the situation” included a lot of session work, backing the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr. and Tony Bennett, subbing for “The Tonight Show” orchestra, or acting as musical director for his first wife, entertainer Pearl Bailey.

Born Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni on July 6, 1924, in Rock Falls, Illinois, Bellson’s interest in drums began at the age of three. As a teen, he came up with the idea of using another bass drum as a part of the drum kit and in fact, his design for it won him an ‘A’ in high school art class (the problem was getting a drum company to build a kit to his specs, until the Gretsch Drum Company stepped forward several years later). In 1941, he won the national Gene Krupa Drum Contest sponsored by Slingerland drums, beating out more than 40,000 other drummers.

His first major job was with the big band of Ted FioRito, until Benny Goodman grabbed him in 1942. During the 1940s, he spent most of his time in the bands of Goodman and Tommy Dorsey, with several timeouts to lead his own small groups.

In the early 1950s, Louie Bellson made history.

In 1951, Duke Ellington was running into problems. Three of his biggest stars–drummer Sonny Greer, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges and trombonist Lawrence Brown left Duke to work in a small group led by Hodges. The savvy Ellington raided the Harry James band that year–the caper was known as “the great James robbery”–and enticed altoist Willie Smith, valve trombonist Juan Tizol and drummer Bellson to join the Ellington band. The drummer is generally credited as reviving Duke’s band and inspiring it to swing like it never did before. And, Duke encouraged Bellson’s composing and arranging talents, performing and recording what became two, Duke Ellington hits, “Skin Deep” and “The Hawk Talks.”

A year later, he made national headlines when he married entertainer Pearl Bailey. In 1952, tolerance for interracial marriage was not at a particularly high level, in this country, and those early years, spent in the public spotlight, were not easy for them. Still, the union flourished and lasted until Bailey’s death in 1990.

Over the years, he returned to the Ellington fold from time to time on an as-needed basis, often for Duke’s special Sacred Concerts. Likewise, he frequently deputized in the bands of Count Basie, Harry James, Woody Herman and countless others.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he became more involved in leading — and composing and arranging for–his own orchestras, and in the jazz education movement. He’s written over a dozen drum instruction books and participated in a number of videos. Since the 1970s, he’s been the recipient of numerous awards, among the first being named a “Duke Ellington Fellow” by Yale University in 1977.

He continued playing, composing and recording until just a few months ago, with his final CD a collaboration with trumpeter Clark Terry.

Hudson Music was involved in a number of performance-oriented and instructional projects with Louie Bellson through the years. And he narrated the monumental, “Legends of Jazz Drumming” videos. Whatever the project, he was, without exception, knowledgeable, thoughtful, enthusiastic, tireless, encouraging, funny, and always swinging. In one session of filming. Bellson commented on almost 100 drummers in jazz history, including a number of contemporary players. He knew what they all contributed, and spoke of how they all were and are important. Like Gene Krupa, Bellson was a perpetual student, always listening and always learning. Personally? He personified the world “gentleman.”

Louie Bellson is survived by his wife, Francine, who helped guide her husband’s career since their marriage in 1991. “Francine has been a blessing to me,” Bellson said some years back. “I’m a man who got two blessings–with Pearl 38 years and I thought that was the end but–here comes Francine. She’s been so great. When Pearl passed away, the first two years I was OK during the day, but at nighttime when I wasn’t performing, I was lonesome. All of sudden Francine came, and I thought I was hallucinating. But she brought me back to reality again.”

Rest in peace, Maestro. And keep swingin’.

Donny Osborne (Mel Torme Drummer)

Louie was a wonderful, giving guy. For example, when I was on the road with Mel in Kansas and Louie was at another club with a day off, called him to help me locate a set for the night because the house kit was bad news. Louie simply said, ‘Problem solved, use mine.’ As a drummer, human being, an all around player he was an amazing guy.

When Mel and I used to play Disneyworld, Louie would sometimes be playing on the property and we would go to the condo and hang out with him because he was always accessible. Buddy and Louie were great friends and were with each other from the very beginning. One of the first things I heard them do was ‘Hi-Fi Drums.’ “I wish I had that record today. It was unbelievable.

Buddy and Louie had great admiration and respect for each other. Buddy was a great guy. He was simple and emotional. When they got together, Buddy’s entire hard demeanor was dropped. Never a bad word was said between them.

Bob Weiner

Louie has given his life to this great music, Jazz. Without knowing him personally, he feels like the true gentleman, a “gentle man,” who brought people together, even beyond the music, as an ambassador of good will, of universal culture, of a love of humanity. His combination of raw, explosive energy and steady discipline and focus are what every drummer dreams about, that rare marriage of pure passion and clear action that brings us to our feet every time.

As a youngster, I studied with Sonny Igoe, who had me play along with a Louie Bellson small ensemble recording. I didn’t quite “get it.” What was he doing? It was so subtle. He was being invisible to make the MUSIC and the ensemble sound great. Aha… like so many other great drummers, he was supporting, nurturing and creating a larger groove for everyone to be comfortable in. True mastery!! What a giant! Watch his narration on the Legends of Jazz Drumming DVD and you can feel the man and his love for the music, his respect for his colleagues, and generosity.

I also remember the concert tribute to Louie Bellson, Max Roach, Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones, where each was honored by a younger drummer. Steve Gadd played for Louie, Marvin “Smitty” Smith played for Max, Terry Lynn Carrington played for Roy, and Peter Erskine played for Elvin. An incredible night of love and music!! then Bill Cosby had the four elders come up and handed them a pair of sticks and put a chair, an ashtray and a music stand (anyone remember the fourth prop?) respectively in front of Louie, Max, Roy and Elvin. Cosby says “OK gentlemen, you have one minute, show me your stuff…”

And each master proceeds to deliver their magic without any drum whatsoever! I will never forget it. Absolutely sublime, to see the true spirit of these Giants come straight through, with NO instrument. and THAT is what we get when they do sit down at the axe. Louie swung from the minute he breathed in, and the human race evolves in a beautiful way…God Bless…

One comment

  1. Jeffrey d. Moore

    Louie Bellson left a legacy that we up and coming Drummers have a responsibility to carry.

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