It was a sad bit of awakening to the clock radio, tuned to NPR, as my first creaking hints of consciousness this morning were greeted by the news of the passing of Louie Bellson, widely regarded as among the jazz world’s finest drummers. He was 84.
My introduction to Bellson came during my 8th grade year. I was then early on both in my saxophone study as well as my development of a fondness for jazz, and on a lark, I purchased a used LP copy of Maxell Jazz Sampler from a bookstore in Brunswick, Maine. Among the cuts from Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, and others was a barn-burner of a big band arrangement from Louie Bellson titled “Quiet Riots.” I played this track nearly endlessly, in no small measure owing to the scream – in – your – face – ’til – it – melts – clean – off – yer – head tenor solo by Pete Christlieb (who I would later come to know through his holding lead tenor chair in the Johnny Carson-era NBC Orchestra, as well as through his magnificent studio contribution to Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” and “FM”).
Among the things that struck me about Bellson (apart from his jaw-dropping chops), through photographs and film clips, is that he looked like he was always having such a damned good time about it all. Huge smile. Joy unbridled. For real—go have a look and listen at Louie from 1957.
And if you care to take a few minutes for a big band break, head on over to Rhapsody and give a listen to Quiet Riots. As best as I can tell, this link, or perhaps this one, should work in getting you there.
One of the greats. Made it look fun, which no doubt he was having. Made it look easy, too, which musicianship at such a world-class level is certainly not.