Louie Bellson, a jazz drummer and bandleader who combined remarkable instrumental virtuosity with far-ranging compositional skills, has died. He was 84.
According to his wife, Francine, Bellson died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications of Parkinson's disease following a broken hip in November.
Bellson's long, productive career stretched from his teens -- when, in competition with 40,000 other young players, he won the Slingerland National Gene Krupa drumming contest -- to the tours and seminars he continued until 2008.
Best known as a superlative big band drummer as a result of his work in the 1940s and '50s with Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Duke Ellington and others, Bellson was also an adept small group player. His more than 200 recorded appearances as leader and sideman encompass sessions with Jazz at the Philharmonic, Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, James Brown and dozens of others, including Ellington's Big Four alongside guitarist Joe Pass and bassist Ray Brown.
"What makes Bellson so special," former Times jazz critic Leonard Feather wrote in 1991, "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."