Interview: Louie Bellson (Part 1) - JazzWax

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September 10, 2007


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John Salmon

Louie is to Buddy as Doc Severinsen is to Maynard Ferguson.

In each case the latter musician has the greater technique (each arguably being the pre-eminent 20th century virtuoso of his instrument, regardless of musical style), was a more important bandleader (musically and historically), and has had more influence, especially or young players.

And MF and BR both had TOURING bands. They did more to preserve the whole idea of big bands as a viable idea than almost anyone else from the mid 60's on-mid 50's for Maynard. What Maria Scheiner, say, does is wonderful, but she doesn't tour. Her contribution, as musically admirable as it is, isn't remotely comparable.

Also, both Maynard and Buddy had the poor taste charge thrown at them, to little effect on either their styles, or the value of their body of work. It's only poor taste if you don't like the playing, of course. In truth, both Doc and Louie's own bands tended towards blandness. I don't say this to argue that all big bands should be fire-eaters-I loved Gerry Mulligan's large groups. But dull is dull.

With the exception of a few albums both BR and MF recorded in the late 70's, very little of each's work under his own name is less than damned good.

Of course, the value of a great sideman, such as Bellson, shouldn't be underestimated.

John Salmon

Your comment that Buddy was successful due to self-promotion is just, well, dumb. Last visit here.


What a great way to put you foot in your mouth !
To say the Buddy’s playing was mechanical and boring is testament to how stupid and naive you are. Go learn the drums and the entreaties involved then come back and say the Buddy was boring.!!!

Gene Smith

I won't "cut" you for your inability to discern drummers. Instead I suggest you listen to Buddy Rich's "Love for Sale" from the "Big Swing Face" record. Over and over if necessary- 3 weeks should suffice. Buddy's 2 bar fill near the end of the piece is the most fantastic thing I have heard in 45 years of playing AND listening. We grew up with turntables that we could spin by hand to see if these riffs were actually superhuman. No doubt-SUPERHUMAN! I saw Buddy perform "Love For Sale" twice. I actually squeaked out that riff once...I didn't, however, hold one hand high and then the other like Buddy did when I saw him play it!!! When I asked him about the fill he told me_ "Throw your sticks in the ocean, and swim after them." I didn't know it at the time-But that was very good advice!
If you want to realize just how strong Buddy's playing was, take a listen to the tribute album(s) where today's top drummers sit in with the band. It is a pathetic sound for anyone who has heard the original group! Even LORD GAD sounds pedestrian on "Love For Sale" and his fill is as exciting as grass growing or paint drying. Steve must have been shaking in his shoes as that solo approached- I'd have left it silent so we could have remembered Buddy's masterpiece. Hell, I'D HAVE TO!
Sure Louie Bellson was a great drummer- And he is respected as a great man also. And Louie would be the first to tell you Buddy was KING. And believe me- most KINGS are very busy!
If you are working on a PC- Throw it in the ocean...
If it's a MAC- SEND IT TO ME!!!


This whole article is embarrassing. The author is just another Louie Bellson fanboy whos envious about that very self-afirmative individual named Buddy Rich (the one considered by Louie himself as THE BOSS). If you at least would look for Buddy's more than tasty playing with the brushes... He was lightning fast on his solos because he only had some minutes to restate his status as "the world's greatest drummer", but he could play ANYTHING with the upmost taste and technique put together. Louie was a great drummer, but Buddy was simply the best (go ask any of the greatest drummers alive and they should enlighten your fuzzy mind).


Buddy Rich was terrific.


Bellson had as much technique as anyone, and it was effortless; but he was also a very musical drummer and not just a bombastic show-off. Apologies to the B.R. acolytes. Buddy had his virtues of course, but Louie was one of the greats - Duke Ellington once called him the greatest musician in the world. He could swing a big band like no one else, and was just as good in a small group.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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