Duke Ellington called him “The world’s greatest drummer.” But Louie Bellson was also a composer, arranger, band leader, and jazz educator rooted in the 1920s golden era of jazz.
Born on July 6, 1924, in Rock Falls, Bellson took to the drums at age three under his father's guidance. By age 15 he had pioneered the use of two bass drums, and by 17 won the Slingerland National Gene Krupa Contest, beating out 40,000 contestants in the process.
Throughout his long, remarkable career, Bellson contributed to hundreds of recordings with a host of legendary musicians, including Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong, to name just a few.
Bellson was the definition of a complete drummer. His soloing ability was unmatched, but no more so than his supreme skill in backing up soloists and playing for the song and the rest of the band. His focus was always on his relationship to the other musicians on the bandstand.
Bellson's inexhaustible oeuvre of music, both written and improvised, spans a spectrum of genres that embrace jazz, jazz/rock/fusion, romantic orchestral suites, symphonic works and even ballet.
Recently Bellson had dedicated much of his time doing drum and band clinics at high schools, colleges, and music stores to expose students of all ages to the craft, and to the magic of the Bellson touch. On February 14, 2009, Bellson died at the age of 84 of complications from Parkinson’s disease, leaving behind an unparalleled legacy in music and a list of admirers that's sure to grow along with his legend.