Bellson is an internationally-acclaimed artist who has performed in most of the major capitals around the world. With the exception of Bob Hope, who has made the most White House appearances, Bellson holds, along with his late wife Pearl Bailey, the second highest number of White House appearances.
He has performed and/or recorded scores of albums (approximately 200) as a leader, co-leader or sideman with such renowned musicians and leaders such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, Norman Granz' J.A.T.P. (Jazz at the Philharmonic), Benny Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Hank Jones, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, Louie Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Shelly Manne, Billy Cobham, James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Pearl Bailey, Mel Tormé, Joe Williams and Wayne Newton.
Over the years, Bellson has taken several bandleader's holidays to play under the direction of other leaders or to lead someone else's band. During the 1960s, he rejoined Ellington for his Emancipation Proclamation Centennial stage production, My People, the motion picture soundtrack of Assault on a Queen, and for what Ellington called "the most important thing I have ever done" -— his Concerts of Sacred Music. In 1966, Bellson toured briefly with both Basie and ex-boss Harry James. A few years later, renowned drummer Buddy Rich (referred to by many as "the world's greatest drummer" over the years) paid Bellson a supreme drummer-to-drummer/bandleader compliment by asking him to lead his (Buddy's) band on tour while he (Buddy) was temporarily disabled by a back injury. Louie proudly accepted.
In 1942, he performed with the Benny Goodman band and Peggy Lee in "The Power Girl", the first of his many film appearances. Louie was 24 and a veteran of a U.S. Army band when he joined Danny Kaye, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnett, Benny Carter, Mel Powell, Kenny Dorharn, Harry Babasin, Al Hendrickson, Buck Washington, and Goodman for Howard Hawks' "A Song Is Born," a movie still shown sometimes on late, late shows on TV to this day.
As a prolific creator of music, both written and improvised, his compositions and arrangements (in the hundreds) embrace jazz, jazz/rock/fusion, romantic orchestral suites, symphonic works and a ballet. Not known by too many about Bellson, he is also a poet and a lyricist. His one Broadway venture, Portofino (1958), was a resounding flop that closed after three performances.
As an author, he has published more than a dozen books on drums and percussion. He is currently at work with his biographer on a book chronicling his career and bearing the same name as one of his compositions -- "Skin Deep".
In addition, The London Suite (recorded in his album "Louie in London") was performed at the Hollywood Pilgrimage Bowl before a record-breaking audience. The three-part work includes a choral section in which a 12-voice choir sings lyrics penned by Bellson. Part One is the band's rousing "Carnaby Street", a collaboration with Jack Hayes.
Bellson has been known throughout his career (up to and including the present) to conduct drum and band clinics at high schools, colleges and music stores. Aimed at student musicians of all ages, they are known to be attended as much by many professional musicians as well as by youngsters and aspiring drummers.
Bellson has led his own orchestra almost steadily for more than forty years. His present band is called the Big Band Explosion.
Bellson received his Doctor of Humane Letters in 1985 at Northern Illinois University. In 1987, at the Percussive Arts Society convention in Washington, D.C., Bellson and Harold Farberman performed a major orchestral work titled "Concerto for Jazz Drummer and Full Orchestra", the first piece ever written specifically for jazz drummer and full symphony orchestra. This work was recorded by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in England, and was released by the Swedish label, B.I.S.
Bellson maintains a tight schedule of clinics and performances of both big bands and small bands in colleges, clubs and concert halls. In between, he continues to record and compose, resulting in more than 100 albums and more than 300 compositions to date. Bellson's Telarc debut recording, "Louie Bellson And His Big Band: Live From New York", was released in June of 1994. He also continues to create new drum technology for Remo, Inc., of which he is vice president.
Between 1943 and 1952, Bellson performed with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, and Duke Ellington (for whom he wrote "Skin Deep" and "The Hawk Talks"). In 1952 he married Pearl Bailey and left Ellington to be her musical director. Later in the 1950s and 1960s he performed with Jazz at the Philharmonic or J.A.T.P., Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington again, and Harry James again, as well as appearing on several Ella Fitzgerald studio albums.
Once married to American singer and actress Pearl Bailey, Bellson also recorded extensively and led his own bands (occasionally maintaining separate bands on each coast). His sidemen have included Blue Mitchell, Don Menza, Larry Novak, John Heard, Clark Terry, Pete and Conte Candoli, and Snooky Young. He was equally effective as a big band drummer and as a small group drummer.
As of 2005, among other performing activities, Bellson visits his home town of Rock Falls, Illinois every July for Louie Bellson Heritage Days, a weekend in his honor close to his July 6th birthday, with receptions, music clinics and other performances by Bellson. At the 2004 event celebrating his 80th birthday, Bellson said, appropriately for the inventor and pioneer of double-bass drumming, "I'm not that old; I'm 40 in this leg, and 40 in the other leg." (Drum! Magazine, September/October 2004, pg. 30, by Rob Howe.) He also celebrates his birthday ever year at the River Music Experience in Davenport, Iowa.
In 2006, Mr. Bellson released a CD entitled “The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson and the Jazz Ballet.”
In May of 2007, Mr. Bellson recorded a number of his compositions and arrangements for big band, featuring Clark Terry on Flugelhorn, as well as Kenny Washington and Sylvia Cuenca on drums. The big band was manned by the members of Clark Terry's Big Band. The music was recorded in Studio A at Clinton Recording Studios in New York City.
In January 1994, Bellson received the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, a U.S. federal agency. As one of three recipients, Bellson was lauded by NEA chair Jane Alexander who said, "These colossal talents have helped write the history of jazz in America."