Monday, February 16, 2009

Arrivederci Luigi...

The 70 year success story that was Louis Bellson came to end over the weekend as the pioneering drummer, bandleader, composer, arranger and educator passed away at the age of 84. According to The Los Angeles Times, Bellson's wife, Francine said he died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications of Parkinson's disease following a broken hip in November.

Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni's star began rising in 1941 when, in competition with 40,000 other young players, he won a national drumming contest sponsored by Slingerland Drums and his hero, Gene Krupa. At the time Bellson was just 17 years old and already a trailblazer; at 15, the Rock Falls, Illinois native was credited with inventing a new way to keep time with not one but two bass drums.

Bellson would eventually follow Krupa's footwork when he joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1942; nine years later, after work with Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and Harry James, Bellson became a member of The Duke Ellington Orchestra. By the time he left to be musical director for his new wife Pearl Bailey in 1953, Ellington was calling Bellson ""not only.... the world's greatest drummer . . . he's the world's greatest musician!"

He held four honorary doctorates, the latest from DePaul University in 2001; Bellson received a Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994; a Living Jazz Legends Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2007 and a Jazz Living Legend Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

Bellson wrote more than a dozen books and booklets on drums and percussion as well as over 1000 compositions and arrangements. He also appeared on over 200 recordings and his last, "Louie & Clark Expedition 2" (with former Ellington band mate Clark Terry) was released last year. For detailed info about Louis visit his website.

A Los Angeles-area service for Bellson is being planned, followed by a funeral and burial in Moline, Ill. Send your condolences to...

Mrs. Louie Bellson
c/o Remo, Inc.
28101 Industry Drive
Valencia, CA 91355

Contributions in memory of Louie Bellson can be made to: Emmanuel Baptist Church and mailed to Mrs. Bellson at the address above.

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