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Louie Bellson drums his way into history


Jacketed against the cold, Louie Bellson plays in downtown Moline during last year's Louie Bellson Jazz Festival.®MDNM¯

The description ``living legend,'' may be overused, but it is certainly an apt description for former Moline resident Louie Bellson.

The drummer, who has had a local annual jazz festival named after him, and who has garnered countless honors, is respected worldwide.

Mr. Bellson has been referred to by jazz critic Leonard Feather as ``one of the most phenomenal drummers in history.'' He has expressed himself on the drums since he was 3 years old, and at 15, he pioneered the double-bass set-up. At 17, he triumphed over 40,000 drummers to win Gene Krupa's national contest.

He has performed and/or recorded scores of albums as a leader, co-leader and sideman. He has played with such greats as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Norman Granz, J.A.T.P., Benny Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Hank Jones, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, Louie Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Eddie ``Lockjaw'' Davis, Shelly Manne, Billy Cobham, James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Joe Williams, Wayne Newton, and his late wife, Pearl Bailey.

He has written more than 300 compositions and published more than a dozen books on drums and percussion. He also has been featured on the big screen, making appearances in ``The Gang's All Here,'' ``The Power Girl'' and ``A Song is Born.''

Mr. Bellson has been voted into the halls of fame of both Modern Drummer magazine and the Percussive Arts Society. Yale University named him a Duke Ellington Fellow in 1977. He received an honorary doctorate from Northern Illinois University in 1985 and from Augustana College in 1996.

In 1993, he performed his original concerto, Tomus I, II, II, with the Washington Civic Symphony in historic Constitution Hall. He received the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994.

In addition, Mr. Bellson is a six-time Grammy Award nominee.

-- By Sean Leary (February 2, 1998)

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