Bellson Music Fest ready to ‘rock’ Rock Falls this weekend – Shaw Local

ROCK FALLS – The third annual Bellson Music Festival on Saturday, June 8, will commemorate the life of a Rock Falls native who became a nationally known jazz drummer.

From 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., several bands, as well as former Journey drummer Steve Smith, will perform in RB&W District Park in Rock Falls during a centennial celebration honoring Louie Bellson’s 100th birthday , originally from Rock Falls. Participation in the event is free.

According to a press release, Smith, who was the drummer for the iconic band Journey, will be the special musical guest. He has been named the best all-around drummer by Modern Drummer magazine multiple times, as well as one of Modern Drummer’s 25 Greatest Drummers of All Time and Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Drummers.

The event will begin with a drum clinic hosted by Smith from 11 a.m. to noon at the McCormick Event Center in Rock Falls.

Several bands are scheduled to play live at RB&W District Park from noon to 9:30 p.m. The program includes:

  • Noon to 1:30 p.m., The Jerry Criss Band, led by R&B soul singer and percussionist Jerry Criss of Elgin. The band specializes in a wide range of genres, including smooth jazz and Latin soul.
  • 2 to 3:30 p.m., Yorkville Big Band. The band consists of 19 players, including two vocalists, and covers a wide range of basic sounds from the 1940s and 1950s.
  • 16:00 – 17:30, Rock River Jazz Band. The band will play big band, swing and more, as well as music composed by Louie Bellson.
  • Between 6 and 7:30 p.m., Josh Duffee and his orchestra. The band has specialized in music from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s for the past 20 years in the Quad-City area. As returning performers, the ensemble will perform music from the 1940s and compositions Bellson wrote in the 1950s and ’60s. Duffee will play on the Bellson drum kit given to him by Francine Bellson, the late star’s widow.
  • Between 8 and 9:30 p.m., Steve Smith and Vital Information. Headlining the festival, the band is an American jazz fusion group led by drummer Smith and featuring Manuel Valera and Janek Gwizdala.

Bellson, born in 1924 in Rock Falls, was not just a jazz drummer. He was also a composer, arranger, bandleader and jazz educator. He is credited with pioneering the use of two drums and is a six-time Grammy nominee.

He died in Los Angeles in February 2009 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 84 years old. Survived by his wife and manager, Francine Bellson, he was buried in Moline, Illinois. In 2010, a memorial stone, designed by Francine, was unveiled and dedicated at his grave.

Bellson never forgot Rock Falls and returned to visit quite often, according to a news release from Rock Falls Tourism. Francine, who now lives in Silicon Valley, California, is scheduled to attend the celebration.

According to, Bellson was considered “the greatest musician in the world” by Duke Ellington, “the epitome of musical talent and a very gifted composer and arranger” by Oscar Peterson, and “the best person I ever met ” by Tony Bennett.

Bellson played on more than 200 albums with a wide range of artists, including Ellington, Peterson, Bennett, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Woody Herman, “Dizzy” Gillespie, Louie Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Sarah Vaughan , Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Mel Torme, Joe Williams, Wayne Newton, and Bellson’s first wife, Pearl Bailey.

He has composed over 1,000 pieces and written a dozen books on drums and percussion. He received the prestigious American Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994. He has also received awards from ASCAP and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and holds four honorary doctorates.

The event is hosted by Rock Falls Tourism in collaboration with Francine Bellson and Duffee.

For information, visit the online event page.

A crowd celebrates the blues and jazz music heard Saturday, June 10, 2023, at Rock Falls Tourism's Bellson Music Fest.