February 17, 2009

AND WHO WOULD ARGUE WITH DUKE?:

Louie Bellson, Dynamic Jazz Drummer, Dies at 84 (NATE CHINEN, 2/17/09, NY Times)

Mr. Bellson was a dynamic, spectacular soloist known for his use of two bass drums, a technique he pioneered as a teenager and developed from a novelty into a serious mode of expression. But he wasn’t strictly a solo exhibitionist: his attentiveness and precision made him a highly successful sideman, and he was capable of extreme subtlety.

He always proudly maintained that Duke Ellington had called him the world’s greatest drummer. During his tenure with the Ellington band in the early 1950s he was often granted a long drum feature, which he attacked with relish and poise. He also wrote compositions like “The Hawk Talks” and “Skin Deep” that were regularly performed by the band. Later, in 1965, he participated in Ellington’s first Sacred Concert.

Before joining Ellington’s band, Mr. Bellson logged time with the top-flight orchestras of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James. He later worked briefly with Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald. As a regular on the impresario Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic tours in the 1950s, he appeared in combos with all-stars like the trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie, the alto saxophonist Benny Carter, and the pianists Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.

In 1952 Mr. Bellson married the singer and actress Pearl Bailey, who had a Top 10 hit that year with her version of “Takes Two to Tango.” He became her bandleader, and their high visibility was significant at a time when interracial relationships were far from common.

Partly because of Ms. Bailey’s political views, the couple enjoyed warm relationships with the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, and they were often invited to the White House.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 17, 2009 9:04 AM
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