Monday, February 16, 2009

R.I.P. Louie Bellson, Blossom Dearie, Gerry Niewood, Coleman Mellett

The Jazz world has experienced an inordinate amount of loss this past week, capped by the passing on Valentine's Day of legendary drummer Louie Bellson. Iconoclastic jazz singer Blossom Dearie died on Saturday, Feb. 7, and the tragic Continental Airlines plane crash on Feb. 12 took the lives of two professional jazz musicians, saxophonist Gerry Niewood and guitarist Coleman Mallett.

Louie Bellson (1924-2009)

It's a given that Bellson is a technical master of the instrument, as any number of videos on youtube (like this one) will attest. But Bellson was concerned with being a true musician. Duke Ellington himself called Bellson "not only the world's greatest drummer…[but also] the world's greatest musician." He has over 1,000 compositions to his credit, an impressive statistic for any musician, and very unusual for a drummer. When I played drums in the Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble, we played Bellson's "Zig-Zag," a tribute to Elvin Jones arranged by Thad Jones, and it was one of the most difficult big band pieces anyone in the band had ever played.

When I was collecting music for the new drummers channel on AccuJazz, "Give The Drummers Some," I ended up putting a lot of Louie Bellson albums on the play list. He led an incredibly prolific career, both as sideman and leader, and you'll undoubtedly get a taste of his output if you give our drummer channel a listen. From everything I've ever heard about the guy, he was a very sweet, considerate, kind man.

Here are some tributes I've pulled from the web: JazzWax,, Jazz Police

A list of exceptional Bellson videos can be found on his official website, here.

Blossom Dearie (1926-2009)

A great, unique jazz singer (and a favorite of AccuRadio CEO Kurt Hanson), Blossom Dearie died Saturday Feb. 7 in New York City. The outpouring of respect for her talents since then has been remarkable, and has sent a message to me that I've been missing a lot by not checking out her music very much. One of the especially impressive tidbits of information to come out since her death is that Bill Evans claimed to have been influenced by her piano voicings. When you stop and think about how many pianists have been influenced by Bill Evans' piano voicings, you realize that Dearie's influence is larger than most would think. Her appearance on a 2001 broadcast of Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" reveals a lot about the quality of her playing and singing as well as her charming personality.

I've added some of her music to our Main Channel and Vocal Jazz channels. Head to AccuJazz to listen.

Some good obituaries and tributes: San Francisco Chronicle, JazzWax, L.A. Times

Gerry Niewood and Coleman Mellett

Though I was already incredibly shocked and saddened by the news of the Continental Airlines Flight 3407 crash on Thursday, it hit me a little bit harder when I read, on Saturday, that two of the victims of the crash were jazz musicians, who traveled constantly for their work. Both longtime members of Chuck Mangione's band, Niewood and Mellett were road warriors on tour as much as 10 months out of the year.

Though he has played thousands of gigs in a long career, Niewood's most notable was probably the famous Simon & Garfunkel Concert in Central Park, where he can be heard playing solos on the live recording. He has some albums to his credit as well. Read his official bio on AllMusic and check out his official MySpace, with many loving comments from friends and family.

Coleman Mellett was a 33 year old guitar player married to jazz singer Jeanie Bryson, the daughter of Dizzy Gillespie. Like Niewood, he was able to make a living solely from playing his instrument. See his official MySpace here.

New York Times Obituary

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