On names, clinics, concerts


I do prefer my name to be spelt Louie, rather than Louis.

It's a bit confusing, because I have it on my passport and my birth certificate as Louis. But a lot of people will say to me: "Well, Louis is also pronounced Louie"-they go back to the French origin. It's like Louis Armstrong-he spelled his name Louis, but he liked it to be said as Louie, too, instead of the "s" being sounded. In my advertisement for my band, I'm called Louie Bellson. Of course-on the last tour, Norman Granz had it as Louis! People ask me how they should say it-well, the spelling gets it over.

Things can get complicated, though. You see, my real surname is Ballesoni; so on my passport I have to put "Louis Ballesoni, known as Louis Bellson". I check into a hotel and say: "Do you have a reservation for Bellson?" and they say: "No". Then I ask 'em: "Well, do you have one for Ballesoni?" "Oh yeah, but we don't have one for you." And I have to say: "Well, I'm the same person." You know, Jon Hendricks did something very interesting once at the Monterey Jazz Festival; I was still with Duke at the time. The idea was for Jon to announce everybody in Duke's band individually. Jon said to me: "When I come to you, how do you want it-Louis or Louie Bellson?" I said: "No, why don't you call me by my real name?" "Well, that's your real name, isn't it?" "No, no-my real name is Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Ballesoni." Jon says: "It can't be!" I said: "That's right." So he asked me to write it down for him, and when he came to the last one, he announced: "And on drums we have Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Ballesoni." There was a mystified hush-everybody thought: "Duke's got a new drummer." That was really funny. Of course, all the guys in the band broke up, you know.

Speaking of first names, Buddy Rich has the same thing. His real name's Bernard, and so he uses Buddy, which naturally rings much better in the music thing. So I like to use the Louie, which they're used to in the States and here by now. I'll settle for that, instead of the Italian name! Something I've been doing for about thirty-five years now is drum clinics. When we first started the clinics, some of the questions that they asked were very immature; today, how ever, the questions are so related to drumming, and they are such powerful questions, about all phases of music, that it's really a joy. I really get a lot of education from doing the clinic, myself mainly from that question-and-answer period, because of them coming up with fantastic questions. And answers, too.

I don't have a set approach to clinics. Reason being that I may talk to some of the people beforehand, and they may want to stress, say, a certain militaristic type of playing. Or I may get into another area, where they just want to deal with cymbals and modern rhythms. Then I will spend most of the time on the clinic on that particular phase of drumming. Another time, we may have a long discussion on playing in a big band or a small band-exactly what to do in each of them. And then, of course, there'll be areas where the drummers are very keen on the finger style of playing. Which I started, although it's not my idea; I learned it from Murray Spivak, who derived it from the French drummers, years ago. Joe Morello is one of the great exponents of that.

I really leave it. sort of flexible. I have a sort of routine which I do: playing, demonstrating basic fundamentals, going into the question period, and winding up by playing. That is an outline, but what happens in between I leave loose, dependent on what the audience wants.

Overall, I like to get into a variety of things, because I'm not just locked into one thing. They realise the importance of a drummer not only being able to play one beat, but also a variety, and getting into a lot of complex types of music. Reading is essential, being able to play in a big or small band, because today, if a young player doesn't have it all, the competition is too keen.

The drummers today also know how to compose and arrange; look at Billy Cobham, what he's done-there's a man who writes his own things. Of course, the youngsters can do it; they've got great books, great teachers, great listening power, through records, also going to concerts and seeing all these peo ple.

One important thing now: I'm doing a lot of things with the symphonies. I have six major works to my credit. Last. year, I had the occasion to play with the Milwaukee Symphony, a great orchestra; they performed two of my works, and the press notices were very good. Now I'm performing with the Glendale Symphony, which is made up .of mostly members of the L. A. Philharmonic. And some day I would like to come and do something with Andre Previn and the London Symphony. I know Andre very well, and we discussed it; he said these things have to be planned way ahead of time, but he's very interested.

So there's another area that I'm very involved with.

Of the six compositions, I have one that features a piano; it has to be a pianist who can play jazz - Andre would be perfect for it. The rest of it, of course, he has to read-which he can also do, quite well. In my case, I set up my drums right by the conductor, and I'm the soloist. One piece that I wrote, called "Bitter Sweet", is strictly symphonic in form; it does not require the use of a big swing band. Whereas one or two of the other things, like the "Symphony In Jazz", requires a good big band, maybe mine, with good lead players, within the orchestra.

Dizzy told me he recently did something with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Pearl and I did also-which was very interesting. This gave us a chance to get acquainted with the symphonic crowd; they, in turn, were able to get accustomed to us. Because I think the two can work hand-in-hand. It's very important that whoever writes the material for the swing band and the orchestra is really very cautious to make sure that each section is treated well. I mean, it should be well thought out, so that it works right. And when it does it's a tremendous thing.

Copyright © 1967 Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.