“To me, Louie is just one of the nicest guys I have every known. His playing is absolutely on top – on top of everything!” – Count Basie
Born in Rock Falls Illinois in 1924 Louie Bellson pioneered the use of the double bass drum, his early training as a tap dancer giving him the dexterity to make them talk. Initially noticed for winning a national competition organized by Gene Krupa he had his first position with Benny Goodman, aged 17. After wartime service he played with Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie from 1946 before joining Duke Ellington for two years in 1951, during which time he married the singer Pearl Bailey.
Bellson first recorded for a Granz label in the summer of 1953, releasing a 78rpm with ‘his Orchestra’; among those featured were Benny Carter, Maynard Ferguson, Harry ‘Sweets’ Eddison and Barney Kessel. Albums followed for both Clef and Norgran before a switched to Verve in 1956 for the album, Drummer’s Holiday that also featured his wife. Besides albums under his own name he worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Lester Young among others
In the 1960s he worked again with Ellington and Basie as well as leading his own band. He continued to work throughout the coming decades and even lead the Buddy Rich band on tour when Rich himself was incapacitated. He was a drummer’s drummer who should have perhaps received wider recognition, but as with all musicians he was happy to have kept working as long as he did. Bellson passed away in 2009 in Los Angeles, California