Fall 2007 CJA Network Featured
initially attracted and led you
to jazz music?
I was born
into an Italian-American family of
eight siblings, all musicians. The
city of Rock Falls, Illinois has since
dedicated a historical monument in
front of the birth house and holds an
annual 4-day celebration in July which
is open to the public.
playing drums at age 3. My father had
a music store where he and all us kids
worked and taught lessons. He made
sure we knew every aria from every
opera. At the same time, our store
would be the first place in town to
receive the latest swing (big-band)
records as soon as they were
released. Bandleaders like Duke
Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny
Goodman. So here’s where my
attraction to swing/jazz began.
did you develop the incredible level
of precision and dynamics in your
drumming? Also, aren't you the
inventor of "double bass" kick drums?
conceived the double-bass drum idea
when I was in high school Art class.
My teacher, Mr. Faber gave me an “A”
for the design. But it wasn’t
actually manufactured until later.
While it is true that I have
performed with the “greatest”
(Ellington, Basie, etc.), it is also
true that I’ve been a student
of the “greatest”, too. Dad taught me
the basics, but I also learned from
the likes of Joe Jones, Chick Webb,
Big Sid Catlett and Gene Krupa. And
one of the responsibilities they all
instilled in me about this knowledge
was to “pass it on” to future
generations. The way I see it, the
Lord placed the talent in my body
(temple); it’s my job to maintain that
body so the talents can be shared for
as long as possible.
contributes to your longevity and
enjoyment of life?
performing professionally for nearly
70 years, both with other bands and
with my own big bands and combos.
Sometimes, like with Tommy Dorsey,
we’d be on-the-road for 6 months at a
time, playing every single day, with
not even a Sunday off! So, needless
to say, safeguarding one’s health is
crucial. I always ate nutritiously
and, being Italian, a little wine with
dinner was always a nice touch. But
smoking, hard drinking and drugs were
definitely out of the question.
young people today to work hard, study
hard and stay clean if they want to
“keep their chops up.” I also tell
them to respect the spiritual values
their parents taught them as they set
out to find their own way in the
world. In short, I practice what I
preach and I’m still performing at 83!
As for satisfaction with life, I work
hard and enjoy what I do for a living
– performing and composing. I’ve had
2 wives, both dedicated Christians,
and I know my Lord and Savior, Jesus
Christ – what more can I want?
What’s the story behind your CD, “The
Sacred Music of Louie Bellson”?
Ellington’s Sacred Concert
premiered in 1965 at the consecration
of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco
with me playing drums. Duke told me
we were going to perform in church.
He said, “It’s based on the first
three words of the Bible—‘in the
beginning’. In the beginning, there
was lightning and thunder. That’s
you!” During one rehearsal, Ellington,
who was also deeply religious, later
told me, “You should consider writing
a sacred concert of your own.”
been writing The Sacred Music of
Louie Bellson since 1969. In it,
I combine the “breaths” (Psalm 150:6)
of symphony, big band and choir. I
wanted to compose music dedicated to
praising God the creator who motivates
our lives through Jesus our savior.
Collaborating with my longtime friends
and arrangers Jack Hayes and Buddy
Baker, this opus premiered at the
University of Southern California in
March of 2000 using the jazz big band,
symphony and choir of the USC Thornton
School of Music.
I performed The Sacred Music at
Stanford University in Palo Alto and
at my church, Emmanuel Baptist in San
Jose, California. The musicians
included Emmanuel’s and other local
choirs, as well as the big band and
strings of Stanford University.
Although recorded in 2000, my wife and
I were not able to produce the Sacred
CD on our Percussion Power label until
2006. The reviews were exhilarating
and I am humbled that it’s been called
“a masterpiece” and “a spiritual
celebration” by my friends Tony
Bennett and Della Reese. The
Sacred Music of Louie Bellson CD
is available on
www.cdbaby.com/louiebellson and on
us about your next Jazz CD in the
project, I joined forces with my old
friend, master trumpeter Clark Terry
on an album of new big-band music that
I composed. The array of arrangers
includes Nat Pierce, Remo Palmier,
Jack Hayes, Albert Alva and my
recently departed friend, Tommy
Newsom. Besides me, the album features
drummers Kenny Washington and Sylvia
Cuenca. And on one number, all 3 of
us drummers get to take solos on one
fanciful tune. We recorded at the
Clinton Studios in New York City in
May and the mix/mastering was
completed this fall out here in
California. As with the Sacred CD, my
wife designed the album and we expect
to release it at the end of this
year. Look for it then on
www.cdbaby.com/louiebellson and on
iTunes. The title is such a “kick,”
we’re keeping it mum until it’s
Louie this is fascinating stuff....
Would you agree to more interviewing
at a later time?
means, David! I feel the work you do
with the CJA Network is vitally
important. Meanwhile, tell your
members about our new website