LOS ANGELES (AP) — Big band and jazz drummer Louie Bellson, a master musician who performed with such greats as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman and his late wife, Pearl Bailey, has died. He was 84.
Bellson died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications of Parkinson's disease following a broken hip in November, according to his wife, Francine.
Bellson's career spanned more than six decades, performing on more than 200 albums with jazz greats including Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Oscar Peterson, Woody Herman, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.
It was through Ellington that he met Bailey, the great singer and Broadway performer. They married in 1952, and when she died in 1990 at age 72, he told the Philadelphia Daily News that "I just lost my best friend."
He was designated as a "master of jazz" in 1994 by the National Endowment for the Arts, which said he "ranks among the foremost big-band drummers of the swing and post-swing eras and is best known for his precise technique and the invention of two pedal-operated bass drums."
Bellson wrote more than 1,000 compositions and arrangements, including ballet music, sacred music, "The London Suite," the "Concerto for Jazz Drummer and Full Orchestra" and a Broadway musical, "Portofino," in addition to his numerous big band charts and small ensemble pieces. He wrote more than a dozen books and booklets on drums and percussion.
He received a Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994; a Living Jazz Legends Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2007; a Jazz Living Legend Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; and an American Drummers Achievement Award from the Avedis Zildjian Co.
He is survived by his wife of 16 years, Francine; daughters Dee Dee Bellson and Debra Hughes; two grandchildren; two brothers and two sisters. A Los Angeles-area service is being planned, followed by a funeral and burial in Moline, Ill.