In the history of big band music, Louie Bellson is considered one of the greatest technicians, second only (maybe) to Buddy Rich. There’s a strong case to be made that Louie had all the facility that Buddy did, but not the “star time” personality - he wasn’t a frequent guest on the Tonight Show and couldn’t spar verbally with someone like Johnny Carson as Buddy did. On the other hand, Louie is remembered as one of the kindest people to ever grace this planet and Buddy…well, you’ve heard the famous “Bus Tapes”.
This isn’t a Buddy Rich post though, this is about Mr. Bellson and the wonderful 1962 album Big Band Jazz Live From Summit released on Roulette Records. Roulette had a reputation for great big band records during the 60’s, including the Count Basie Orchestra (Atomic Mr. Basie is a classic) and the Maynard Ferguson band of that era. This album was recorded over a three night period from January 22-24, 1962 at LA’s Summit club and features some of the top west coast players of the time, including Conte Candoli, Lou Levy, Al Porcino, Mike Barone and Bill Perkins. The Summit had been a regular home to Terry Gibb’s Dream Band, which is well documented over several volumes of recordings and vibe of the Summit is strong on all of these records.
Though not a “working” group, these players certainly played together often and that can be heard on this album. It’s a standard big band, augmented by a tuba, french horn and vibes, none of which are particularly featured, but do add to the color of the group. These charts, arranged by greats like Benny Carter, Marty Paich, George Willams, Shorty Rogers and Bob Florence are modern and swinging. Bellson is ever the team player on everything, never over-playing and always supporting his soloists. The “drum solo” feature is on tune that Bellson wrote (Florence arranged) called “The Diplomat Speaks”. The title is a nod to the kind of drum heads Bellson was using (Remo Diplomats - for all you drum nerds out there, Diplomats are exceptionally thin heads) and Bellson plays the kind of solo that made him a drum hero (see also his solo on “Skin Deep”, recorded with the Ellington band. This performance is exceptional and showcases some fine brush work and, of course, his blazing chops. Bellson is often credited for his invention of double bass (in his book Drummin’ Men - The Swing Years, Burt Korall credits this to Ray McKinley), but on this record, it’s really only used on the solo. It’s worth noting that Bellson had made the double-bass look so iconic, that Duke Ellington required all of his drummers after Bellson to use two bass drums (see Sam Woodyard and Rufus “Speedy” Jones).
If you’re not a drummer, there’s so much to love on this record. There are the great solos by some under appreciated saxophonists (Teddy Lee - Baritone, Carrington Visor - Tenor), great ensemble playing by the entire group and a variety of arrangements and feels that sound like a cohesive group of tunes. This album isn’t extremely rare, but as of this posting, isn’t available on YouTube. The original LP contains the big band recording, but the CD version includes a small group session that was recorded in the days after the big band performance, featuring the same personnel (with the addition of the great West Coast trombonist Frank Rosolino) and arrangements by Marty Paich.
Who’s Who (Benny Carter)
Cool (Comp. Bernstein / Arr. Marty Paich)
Amoroso (Benny Carter)
Prelude (George Williams)
Gumshoe (Benny Carter)
Blitzen (Comp. Leonard Feather / Arr. Benny Carter)
St. Louie (Marty Paich)
Moon is Low (Benny Carter)
Doozy (Benny Carter)
Lou’s Blues (Benny Carter)
WIth Bells On (Shorty Rogers)
The Diplomat Speaks (Comp. Bellson / Arr. Bob Florence)
Trumpets: John Andino, Jimmie Zito, Conte Candoli, Frank Huggins, Ray Triseari (Triseari is replaced on the second night by Van Rasey and the second night by Al Porcino due to an automobile accident).
Trombones: Nick Dimario, Mike Barone, Ernie Tak (bass)
French Horn: Art Maebe
Tuba: Red Callender
Saxophones: Joe Maini, Willie Green (as) Carrington Visos, , Bill Perkins (ts), Teddy Lee (bs)
Piano: Lou Levy
Bass: Jimmie Bond
Vibes: Gene Estes (also credited for “Boo Bams” on The Diplomat Speaks)
Drums Louis Bellson