Louie Bellson | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Louie Bellson 

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LOUIE BELLSON

When Louie Bellson first came into his own--as the first white drummer ever to play in Duke Ellington's orchestra, and the first drummer of any color to contribute compositions to the maestro's repertoire--he almost hid the electrifying energy that has distinguished his playing ever since. He made it sound so easy, and he played with such elegance and musicality, that listeners might have overlooked the flamboyant novelty he had already exhibited in the bands of Count Basie and Benny Goodman; one might even have mistakenly ranked him in a different echelon than his slightly older contemporary, the attention-grasping Buddy Rich. (Actually, Bellson could play just about anything Rich could; he just did it with taste.) The first drummer to use two bass drums in his trap set, he still manages to articulate crisply rolling thunder from this cumbersome setup; meanwhile, his ride cymbal dances like a ballerina, and his accents and shadings reveal the composer's ear at work. Because of his unfailing exactitude, Bellson is one of the very few drummers who make it worth your while to sit near the drums; that way, you can see as well as hear how each stroke shapes as well as drives the work of his band mates. Bellson has led his own big bands and has played here with various small groups of his own devising; this time he appears leading a four-horned Chicago septet assembled by pianist Larry Novak. With trumpeter Art Hoyle and saxist Eric Schneider featured prominently, along with Novak's own crystalline piano voicings, this band can effortlessly capture the swing-to-bop dynamic of the early-50s, when Bellson fully established himself and hit his full creative stride. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, October 3 and 4, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, October 5, 4 and 8 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. The last show Sunday fits into a celebration honoring Jazz Showcase owner Joe Segal on his 50th year of presenting music; the evening promises a buffet dinner and a testimonial "roast," emceed by veteran radio host Dick Buckley and including this writer as one of the spit turners. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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