The CJO is “a superb vital force in jazz.”

Louie Bellson

As we prep for our upcoming virtual benefit on the 25th of October, we’re taking a trip down memory lane and looking at some of the jazz artists who have been guests of the CJO in years past. We’ve had such a blast with each and every guest artist, and we can’t wait to take the stage with more fabulous folks in the future!

Louie Bellson (1924 – 2009)

Drummer Louie Bellson was born Luigi Paulino Alfredo Francesco Antonio Balassoni in Rock Island, Illinois. He began playing drums at age 3, and at age 17 beat out 40,000 other contestants in a Slingerland Drum Company contest. In short order, Bellson found himself playing for the big bands of Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Harry James and Benny Goodman.

During his long career, he lead seventy recordings of groups both big and small and was a sideman on many recordings, including those with Frank Rosolino, Bobby Shew, Clark Terry, Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Carter, James Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Mantooth, Sarah Vaughan, and Oscar Peterson.

He was given credit for being the first to use two bass drums on a set–which became a standard for many popular music drummers abut less so in jazz, but Bellson made it work in a jazz setting. He also was a vice-president of the Remo Drum company, which along with Gretsch, Ludwig and Slingerland, has been a leader in drum equipment.

Another aspect of Louie was his absolute color blindness–he married singer Pearl Bailey, who was African-American, in the early 1950’s, and he acted as her musical director until her passing in 1990. He also worked in groups that weren’t firmly integrated, but Bellson was just about love and made those situations much smoother as a result.

Few had ever been in demand as much as Bellson as a guest artist and clinician, and many counted him as an influence not only from his recordings but from his help personally on dates across the country. The CJO enjoyed Louie’s work in the late 1980’s as part of the Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland.

Louie  Bellson captivated audiences and his bandmates with his vibrancy as a player and as a person. So popular was he, only Clevelander Bob Hope appeared at the White House more than Bellson.


Bob Brookmeyer (1929 – 2011)

Valve trombonist, pianist, and composer Bob Brookmeyer was born in Kansas City, Missouri. If only known for his valve trombone work, Brookmeyer’s place in jazz history would be cemented, as he was one of the finest on this particular instrument; however, his first notoriety came as a pianist, but he received greater fame for his valve trombone work with Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Jimmy Guiffre and performing on the Merv Griffin Show. He co-led a group with Clark Terry, and was a founding member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (and became their leader in 1979).

His writing was recognized by receiving eight Grammy nominations, and he was a National Endowment for the Arts award winner.

Many of the members of CJO cite his concert with us in 2000 as one of their finest memories in their tenures with the CJO, and for several years, we’d open with Brookmeyer’s “Boom Boom” on our run-out concerts. His writing is deeply moving and complex.

Regarding Bob Brookmeyer’s influence, our Artistic Director, Paul Ferguson had written: “He combined old and new, east and west, sacred and profane in his own idiosyncratic style. Quite a force, glad I knew him, if not well, but he made quite an impression.”


Diane Schuur (1953 – )

In 1953, dynamic singer and pianist Diane Schuur was born. “Deedles,” as she is known, has been blind since birth–but this certainly hasn’t slowed her down. Blessed with perfect pitch, an amazingly flexible voice that spans five octaves, and having been self-taught on piano, she was discovered at age twenty-two by Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy and then, shortly thereafter, by John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie. Mentored by Stan Getz, she went on to have a multiple Grammy award winning career. The album Dianne Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra (1990) remains wildly popular and is among the finest recordings of a vocalist with a big band. Without question, one of the biggest highlights in the history of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra was Diane’s performance with us as part of the Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland in April of 1990.

With the Count Basie Orchestra, here she is singing “Deedle’s Blues”: