I had the great opportunity of meeting Louie several times and found him enlightening, debonair and extremely humorous. He was a great innovator of drumming and a grand teacher of swing. Louie set the bar higher than anyone. By him using two bass drums changed drumming for all time. He also broke the racial barrier. Louie was a gentleman and clearly enjoyed life to the fullest.
He will be truly missed. - John “JR” Robinson
Louis was so cool; a great guy, a real down home person.
In 1956 after my high school prom, a bunch of my friends went to see Louis play with Charlie Shavers' band. After the set he came over to our table, sat down, hung out with us and signed each of our concert programs. Every time I saw him after that he remembered me by name. He was not only a fantastic drummer and innovator, but also a warm and wonderful person.
Louis, we'll miss you. - John Bergamo
"When I was a little kid, as far as big name drummers go, the first guys I ever heard about were Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Louie Bellson. My teacher at the time was a huge Bellson fan, so obviously that made me focus a little more on Louie and his history, not too mention he had TWO bass drums on his kit - very cool!!! Technically this is the man that FIRST inspired me to get another kick drum, and boy could he play them. I had the opportunity to see Louie at the MD fest in 1993 and he was smokin!! It gave me the confidence to know that you can keep kicking ass no matter how old you are!!! I'm just sad that I never got a chance to meet him and personally thank him for being such an inspiration! However, I'm sure he's in a better place now with his beloved wife Pearl alongside him once again!!"
I am deeply saddened by the loss of a true American hero. My deepest thoughts of warmth come to mind in the remembrance of this legend of the drum. I myself, as so many others, have a personal experience with Louie that I have never shared with anyone. As a young drummer I grew up listening to and idolizing the drumming on Louie's records. One evening, in the late nineties, I was performing with a Latin ensemble at Cafe Cordialle in Studio City, CA. Unbeknown-st to me, Louie was in the audience. After the set was finished he came up to me and congratulated my "incredible drumming", as he stated! I was floured! Here was one of my childhood heroes congratulating me. We sat down and spoke with each other for about 45 minutes. Our conversation was one of the most real and warm moments of my life. I floated on a cloud for about a month after that day. As I sit here in tears, I remember this precious moment with one of the greats of American musical giants.
Thank you Louie! You are loved and will always be missed! R.I.P. - Tony Shogren
Louie was such a lovely man. Truly the consummate gentlemen. A real Icon and someone to admire.
Advertising Director, Modern Drummer Publications
Many years ago Louie Bellson came to my high school in Englewood, Colorado. He performed with our jazz band (I even got to trade fours with him!), spoke at length to the students, and offered kind words of encouragement directly to me as a fellow drummer. Even while recognizing that he did these things hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times, over the years, he made me feel special, and I count my brief encounter with his monumental talent, humility, and generosity among the highlights of my lifetime of music making.
Managing Editor, The Music Trades
Louie was the reason I moved to California in 1977. When I was in high school, he was the guest artist with my high school jazz band in 1976. Even though he was offered the opportunity to stay at a hotel, he chose to stay at our house for two nights. That gesture alone says a lot about the man, and was the first indication he was someone very special. Let’s be honest: Given a choice, most of us would choose to stay in a hotel, not because of a lack of interest in sharing our knowledge and/or talent with a young person or band starting out, but because we all like our own space and privacy. I don’t know many people who would have agreed to stay at someone’s house without ever having met them before. Not Louie. He wanted to stay with “the kid drummer” and that was the beginning of a personal and professional relationship that lasted over 30 years.
As a result of that concert, he encouraged me to come out to LA to study with him. I had already been accepted to two other major music universities but decided half way through my senior year in high school to take advantage of his invitation. It was a big gamble for me, as I didn’t know if he really meant the things he said or if he was just being kind. I’m thankful I made that decision.
Louie opened up so many doors for me. Because I didn’t have a car until my senior year in college, he would pick me up at the CSUN dorms in his orange Corvette and would take me to a lot of the recording sessions, club dates, concert venues and festivals he played during my college years and far beyond. As a result of accompanying him on those many gigs, I was introduced to Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich and several other well-known musicians. Over the years, our professional lives merged and we went on to write books together. We also had our own jazz band series with Barnhouse for many years and he recorded a few of the tunes we had written together on his commercially-released CDs. I also caught the garter belt at his second wedding to Francine in 1992. He was really like a second father to me in those early years. As he got older, the roles sort of reversed and I would pick him up and take him to some of the venues he needed to be at. I was honored to be able to return the favor.
The following story is one I will never forget, as it really captures the essence of who he truly was. I remember going with him to one of his performances. Because he sometimes wore pants without pockets when he performed, he had no place to put his wallet. After this particular performance, a large number of people wanted his autograph and so he handed me his coat and some folded up money to hold on to. After we left the venue, a few of us (including Louie) went out for a bite to eat and when the check came, he insisted on paying and asked for the money I was holding. To my shock, I no longer had it. I came to realize that when I put the money in my back pocket, I must have pushed a small part of my shirt down into the pocket along with it. When I pulled my shirt up, the money must have fallen out onto the ground. I was obviously very upset and embarrassed, but in typical Louie fashion, he simply said “That’s okay, I hope who ever found it needed it.” Although I tried to pay him back several times after that incident, he never would accept it.
Louie, we will miss you dearly but are thankful you left the world a much better place for having graced us with your presence.
Love, Dave Black
The above comments are excerpted from a tribute to Louie Bellson in the April 2009 issue of Percussive Notes.