There have been great drummers globally, but none has received such great recognition as the “BIG THREE,” Louie Bellson, Gene Krupa, and Buddy Rich. Duke Ellington recognized Bellson as one of the greatest drummers in the world – and he was. Bellson was everything you can expect from a talented artist. His talents extended to being a composer, an arranger, a bandleader, and an excellent jazz teacher.
Louie Bellson was the pioneer of using two bass drums. It was the speed of his hands and feet and the fantastic, percussive ‘ideas’ he tapped on his drums that were envy and inspiration for many. His work could only be compared to Buddy Rich’s, making him a total technician behind the drum kit.
Every drummer and musician that interacted with Bellson enjoyed his performance and personality. For instance, Leonard Feather tagged him “one of the most amazing drummers the world has ever seen.” And it all started when he was still a baby. He showed interest in drums ever since he was three years old. And at 15- years of age, he introduced the use of a double-bass-drum kit.
He had such a fabulous imagination that he scored an “A” in high school art class. At age 17, he won the Slingerland National Gene Krupa contest after beating 40000 other drummers. Bellson was recognized internationally as he performed in almost every major city in the world. He held the second-highest number of visits to the statehouse, after Bob Hope.
That is not all; the drummer performed on more than 200 albums. He worked as a leader, a co-leader, or a sideman with great names like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorset, Harry James, Woody Herman, Norman Granz‘ J.A.T.P, Benny Carte, Louie Armstrong, Sonny Stint, and Wayne Newton, just to mention a few. Bellson has taken several holidays over the years to work under the direction of other leaders or to work with another band.
In the 1960s, the drummer got together with Ellington again during his Emancipation Proclamation Centennial stage production titled “My People.” They also worked together on the soundtrack for “Assault on a Queen. He continued to work on many other projects and toured different parts of the world. He went on a brief tour with Basie and ex-boss Harry James in 1966.
After a few years, Buddy Rich paid him the supreme drummer-to-drummer/bandleader recognition. Buddy even asked him to lead his band on tour, something he had never done with another band. He performed in 1942 with Benny Goodman‘s band and Peggy Lee, working in “The Power Girl.” He then played with many other artists, including Lionel Hampton and Benny Carter.
Bellson was also a prolific music creator who wrote and improved his compositions. He was an author who wrote over a dozen books on drums and percussion. He made hundreds of arrangements, too, in a wide range of genres. Before entering into the Halls of Fame for Modern Drummer magazine and the Percussion Arts Society, he had created a name for himself across the globe. He also received the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award in ’94. Louie Bellson died peacefully on 14 February 2009.