Big band drum legend Louie Bellson died on Saturday (14 February) in Los Angeles at the age of 84. As well as his previously reported broken hip following a fall, he had also been suffering from Parkinson's Disease.
An Italian-American, Bellson was born Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni in Rock Falls, Illinois, and began playing the drums at the age of 3. He's credited with having pioneered the use of the double bass drum set up at the age of 15, and at the age of 17 beat 40,000 drummers to win a national contest. He went on to drum for some of the biggest names in jazz, performing with the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, as well as leading his own bands.
During the course of his career he appeared on more than 200 albums, and wrote more than 1000 compositions and arrangements for music in a number of genres, such as classical music and swing, as well as jazz. He also published a number of books on drumming and percussion, and received a number of awards, including the American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment For The Arts in 1994. He was also a six-time Grammy nominee and he and his late wife, actress and singer Pearl Bailey, who died in 1990, made frequent appearances at The White House.
He is survived by his second wife, two daughters and two grandchildren.
Head to Zildjian.com for a host of tributes from his drummer friends.