Louie Bellson

Louie Bellson

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February 14, 2009 (Age 84) died

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July 6, 1924 Birthday

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Rock Falls, Illinois, U.S. Birthplace

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Louie Bellson was an admired jazz drummer, bandleader and composer. After coming up through the big bands of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James, Bellson joined Duke Ellington's band in 1951. Ellington referred to Bellson as "the greatest drummer in the world" and in addition to performing, Bellson wrote several hit tunes for the group. In 1953 Bellson left Ellington to serve as musical director for his wife, singer-actress Pearl Bailey. Over the next several decades Bellson recorded frequently both as leader and as a sideman appearing on over 200 recordings. Bellson was also a prolific composer writing or arranging more than 1,000 pieces including jazz suites, ballets, sacred music and a Broadway show. Throughout his career but especially during his later years Bellson focused on jazz education giving clinics and seminars at high schools and colleges. Bellson passed away from complications of Parkinson's disease in 2009 at the age of 84.


Louie Bellson was a vice president at the drum company Remo. Louie Bellson was named an NEA Jazz Master in 1994. Louie Bellson published a dozen books on drumming and percussion.

Early Life

Louie Bellson, born Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni in 1924, grew up in northwestern Illinois. Bellson began playing the drums at age 3. His father owned a music store and encouraged Bellson's interest in the drums, but also urged him to study keyboards and music theory. By high school Bellson was playing at a high level and had developed his signature double bass-drumkit. At age 17 he entered a drum contest sponsored by drummer Gene Kruppa and beat out 40,000 other contestants to be crowned the winner. Following high school graduation in 1942 Bellson played briefly in the big bands of Ted Fio Rito and Benny Goodman before leaving for 3 years of military service. After completing his service, he returned to Goodman's band.