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JAZZ REVIEW : Bellson Drums Inspire Agoura Band Students

By the time Louie Bellson got around to taking his seat behind his drums at “An Afternoon of Jazz” at Agoura High School on Sunday afternoon, a nearly full house had already been treated to the impressive big-band sounds of the school’s award-winning “A” and “B” jazz ensembles.

“They’re really an inspiration,” Bellson said during the three-hour show’s intermission. “They know a lot more, can play a lot better than kids could when I was young.”

Bellson, who will turn 65 this July and who seems the embodiment of “forever young,” fronted a big band composed of the youngsters. Maybe it was his personality or his understanding of the students’ desire to make music, or maybe it was just the way he counted off “Satin Doll” that magically elevated the efforts of the young players from “B” to “A,” from “A” to “Mom, can I go on the road during summer vacation?”

Whatever it was, it worked and Bellson, who remains one of the most technically awesome drummers on Earth, proved by example that there’s considerably more to drumming than the boom of the bass, the tap of the snare and the crash of the cymbal. Even on a tune such as “Carnaby Street,” which was designed as a solo vehicle, Bellson’s musical approach made his drums sound more melodic than percussive, his array of cymbals and tom-toms providing a vast palette of tonal hues.

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Solo chores inside the band were handled, primarily, by a handful of professional ringers--namely, saxophonist Vince Trombetta and trumpeter Johnathon Dane--and rounding out the rhythm section were pianist Les Hooper and bassist Gary Pratt. Each of the pros expends considerable effort on the jazz-education front, with both Hooper and Trombetta contributing charts to the proceedings.

Two other ringers were on hand Sunday afternoon: singer Dee Dee Bellson and drummer Jacob Armen.

Dee Dee, the daughter of drummer Bellson and singer Pearl Bailey, sang three tunes with the band. Each of her efforts was a gem and her abundant musicality proved the worth of a good musical home life.

Armen, the 8-year-old wunderkind who could barely be seen behind his massive drum set, amazed the crowd with his soloing virtuosity during an arrangement of “Giant Steps.” It is hoped that Armen listens more to Bellson’s drumming than his mentor’s haughty praise.

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