Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Louie Bellson


Duke Ellington called him "the world's greatest drummer," and in a career spanning three quarters of a century, he worked with such Big Band giants as Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Harry James, as well as Ellington. When the era of the large orchestra gave way to smaller jazz combos, Bellson moved smoothly into the new genre, and played with Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, James Brown and dozens of others. He was a gifted instrumentalist, percussionist, sideman, musical arranger, and composer. It was during his tenure with the Duke Ellington orchestra, in which he was the only white member, that he met and married singer Pearl Bailey. Their interracial marriage, highly controversial in the early 50s, lasted until her death 40 years later. He appeared on hundreds of recordings and was considered an expert on percussion and its instruments.

Bellson passed away last week from Parkinson's disease aggravated by a broken hip.