Jazz Drummer Louie Bellson Dies | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Jazz Drummer Louie Bellson Dies

There are complements, and then there are complements. Duke Ellington once said that Louis Bellson was “not only the world's greatest drummer, but also the world's greatest musician!”

Born about 100 miles west of Chicago in Rock Falls Illinois, Luigi Ballasoni began playing drums at age 3. His father owned a music store in the Quad Cities. In his mid-teens, he began traveling to Chicago to take lessons with Gene Krupa's teacher “Uncle” Roy Knapp. Drum historian and author Rob Cook says that a lot of the “musicality” in Bellson's playing came from his years with Knapp.

Bellson would take lessons by day and hone his craft at night, playing at strip clubs and sleazy dives around the city. At 17, he beat out 40,000 other young drummers to win the national Gene Krupa contest sponsored by Chicago drum manufacturer Slingerland. That got him noticed by another LOCAL music legend, Benny Goodman, who signed Bellson up to play with his orchestra.

In his lifetime, Bellson played with every major 20th century jazz orchestra and musician, including Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Basie, and Ellington. Sarah, Ella, Oscar, Dizzy, Pops, Art Tatum….the list goes on. He spent years as the musical director for his wife, Pearl Bailey, toured with his own big band, recorded over 100 albums, and spent considerable time and energy teaching and doing clinics for young players. Rob Cook says Bellson was more than a brilliant musician.

Louie Bellson. The last of the great swing-band drummers passed away on Valentines Day. He was 84 years old.

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