February 17, 2009

Jazz musician Louie Bellson dead at 84

Jazz drummer and bandleader Louie Bellson has died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his wife, Francine. He was 84.

The Los Angeles Times quoted the musician's widow as saying Bellson died Saturday of complications from Parkinson's disease. He had also suffered a broken hip in November.

Born Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni in Rock Falls, Ill., Bellson performed in the 1940s and 1950s with Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Harry James and Duke Ellington.

Bellson won the Slingerland National Gene Krupa drumming contest while he was still in his teens and continued to tour and give seminars up until last year.

The Times noted Bellson's more than 200 recorded appearances as leader and sideman included sessions with Jazz at the Philharmonic, Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and James Brown. Bellson also penned more than 1,000 compositions and arrangements, as well as more than a dozen books and booklets on drums and percussion.

He was honored with a Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994 and a Living Jazz Legends Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2007.

What makes Bellson so special is his overall musicianship. A gifted composer and arranger who has written everything from jazz instrumentals to ballets, he can incorporate his role logically instead of banging away without regard to the dynamic or melodic structure of the work in progress, former Times jazz critic Leonard Feather observed in 1991.

In addition to his wife, Bellson is survived by his daughters Dee Dee Bellson and Debra Hughes; two grandchildren; and two brothers and two sisters.