August 9, 2003 by

Aaron Bell


Categories: Musicians

Samuel Aaron Bell, a bassist who performed with Duke Ellington’s orchestra, died on July 28. Cause of death was not released. He was 82.

When he was a child, Bell’s mother taught him to play the piano. In high school, he learned the trumpet and the tuba, and in college, he mastered the double bass. During World War II, Bell played in Navy bands then joined the Andy Kirk Orchestra and moved to New York City.

In between performances, Bell took classes at New York University and recorded music with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway.

In the 1950s, Bell formed his own band and recorded five albums, none of which have been released on CD. Bell joined Duke Ellington’s orchestra as a bassist in 1960, and occasionally served as Ellington’s arranger.

Bell spent his later years performing in bars and clubs, and teaching music at Essex County College in Newark, N.J. At his funeral, several of his students played “Take the A Train,” the famous Ellington song that featured Bell on bass.

25 Responses to Aaron Bell

  1. Aaron Bell

    I’m not quite sure what to think. Sure, I enjoy jazz, perhaps more than the next guy, but in a strange way, I feel an eery connection to this famous musician. I guess it’s somewhat reassuring to know that his real first name is Samuel. Funny, I’m addressing the obituary of my own name. As in the movie, “American Splendor”, I have to wonder —- “what’s in a name?”
    ~Aaron Bell

  2. Gary Curran

    As a jazz afficianado, I appreciated Bell’s great bass work. But, my favorite was an album that he did that I would love to find, and that was ‘Victory At Sea’ in Jazz! The swingin’ groove on that album really lit me up. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and wish I could find a copy of it available somewhere.
    Anyone knowing the whereabouts of such an album is invited to e-mail me.

  3. Pam

    Aaron Bell’s music was his craft. He breathed it, he lived it, he played it- he wrote it. He played with such passion and enjoyed every minute of it. It’s unfortunate that he never received the full acknowledgement he earned. Hopefully, he and his music will never be forgotten. Aaron Bell was a true connoisseur of music.

  4. Byron Caloz

    I just discovered Aaron Bell recently. He did a great album on MGM’s subsidiary label Lion called “Music from 77 Sunset Strip” (L70116). I think he also did a similar album for music from Peter Gunn, also on Lion. Sorry to hear he is no longer with us, but his music lives on!

  5. James Mancuso

    I did not even know that Mr. Bell was even gone. I just got a copy of FIRST TIME, The Count Meets the Duke and there was so much complimentary stuff I wanted to share with the man. I read his liner notes on how the get together of the Ellington and Basie bands went. It was sheer genius that got the Ellington and Basie bands to play together as one. I would have loved ot have had Aaron Bell as a friend. God bless his soul and his relatives.

  6. Jabari Bell

    Hello. Aaron Bell was my grandfather and I knew him from when I was born.
    He was a great man who loved all that surrounded him, The thing I remembered most about him was his joy.
    I loved him a lot and thank u for your words.

    • Deanna Bell

      Hello Jabari,
      I am not sure if you are still around this site. However, I think that we may be related and that Aaron may have been my uncle. My dad, Charles Henry Bell(born in Muskogee in 1917, now deceased)had a brother Aaron Bell. There were many other brothers and sisters, all of whom have since passed away. I would like to connect with you if possible to see if there is any relation between our families.

  7. Mark Ettinger

    Aaron Bell was a musical genius, loved by peers and students. When i was 15 he came to my privileged NYC high school to lead a jazz ensemble. He took a few naive kids of European descent and opened up a new world to us. He taught me to play the bass, to swing, to understand jazz, to respect a world i had barely glimpsed, that is now a huge part of who i am today. in a few short years that band grew, and swung hard and played his own fine works as well as Duke classics. I hope we made him proud. i found him and played with him again just before he died – he was one of my greatest teachers. RESPECT! Thank you Aaron Bell for more than i can say. They don’t make them like him…

  8. anthony brown

    I AM A FORMER STUDENT of dr bell,not only am i priviledge to have learned from the man how to be great on bass. he also taught me to be a great musician I will greatly miss him

  9. aaronica bell

    he was my grandfather and was one of the greatest men on earth… he taught the meaning of life through living and he will forever live on…

  10. PPJunior

    When Essex County College first opened I enrolled for 2 reasons. The first was to secure a 2s deferment from the military draft & second to study with Professor Aaron Bell. In our small jazz ensemble perfomance he chose me to play bass while he played piano on his composition “Way in the Middle”.. It remains a wonderful memory to this day…

  11. Keith A. Melvin

    I was a student of Dr. Bell and he was one hell of a bassist and an inspiration to me. I learned what solfeggio was all about from him. He is truly missed.

  12. darryl Smith

    Dr. Bell was truly a great musician and teacher. Of all the cats who helped me on the way, he was the guy who gave and gave and never let up on you. I owe a whole lot to this man.

  13. Robert Bonnici

    Aaron Bell was a great musician, one of the best bassist’s that Duke ever had in his band. I find it sad that a man with such talent was so underated.
    Even though he has passed away, his music will always live on!!

  14. Danny Ramsey

    I was born in 1952,when I was very youg my mother bought a nice hi fi record player that came with a few new LPs. One was the Peter Gunn lp. The album is long gone but I can still recall the brothers go to mothers, Peats Pad and more. At the age of about 7 I talked my parents into getting me a set of drums… I played along with that album over and over. Today (now 55) I do background music for film……Aarons music realy grabbed me when I was a kid and honestly shaped my direction…. Just now saw the blog …never knew he died. Peace to Aaron Danny Lee Ramsey

  15. Tarwana West

    Dr. Bell was a great musical inspiration to me. I had the pleasure of having him accompany me on piano as I sang Jazz standards for my sister-in-law’s wedding in 1996. What a thrill! Sometimes when I bend a note ever so slightly I can still hear him say “HAH!” I am so humbled that he found pleasure in the sound of my voice. He also remains a huge musical influence on my husband Carl who was the male vocalist in his SWAT team. We now perform together for weddings, etc. and I sometimes warm up by singing “Way in the middle”. We speak of you often Dr. Bell. You’ll remain a blessing in our lives forever……..

  16. Natalie 'Grice' Jackson

    I am a former student from 1985-89 at Essex County College. He first taught me to sing jazz and I have never stopped since that day. He was an incredible musician and composer and I was so blessed to have the opportunity to be taught theory and other elements of music, to train vocally and learn to sing jazz under his tutelage, record with him, and be exposed to a musician of his caliber and genius. I miss him greatly and am grateful for the opportunity to have worked and be taught by him!

  17. Pam

    It’s wonderful to read the postings still being submitted after Aaron’s death on July 28, 2003. He was a wonderful person in every sense of the word. I miss him so much, and so grateful that I have his music to listen to!

  18. Norma "Lee" Johnson

    I am also happy to post a tribute to Dr. Bell, even after all these years. I am a native of Muskogee, Oklahoma, which has wonderful memories of him as a young performer and teacher. His versatility on many instruments and his creativity caused admiration from his peers. He deserved so much more recognition than he received. His legacy, in addition to his family, will continue to be his music and the many students he inspired.

  19. Amy Elizabeth Wheeler

    Dr. Bell taught me a secret about singing: to enjoy it. For two years we met every Tuesday and he played and I sang and then we’d go out for a beer. He arranged a demo for me with some “cats”. Then when I went legit (opera) he said “now why would you want to go and do a thing like that?”. In fact he was so miffed he wouldn’t play with me anymore. I understood, though I really missed him. Funny thing is, I have been applying his wisdom to every song I have sung ever since – in his own words I say to him: “now some folks have a talent for words and music too but we know now that we have none except when it comes to loving you.

  20. Larry C. Jones

    I was a student of Dr. Bell’s in the early 70’s at ECC for string bass and music theory. I also participated in his music workshop and brought along muscian friends to join in. It was amazing how well Dr. Bell could play almost any instrument other than double reeds.

  21. Robin

    Thank you everyone for these wonderful memories and comments. My name is Robin and I am Dr. Aaron Bell’s middle child and youngest daughter.

    I only recently came upon this site, purely by accident. My Dad truly was a very special man – and yes Deanna, we are cousins. I believe you have been in touch with other members of the family 🙂

    My Dad did so much more in his later years than…”performing in bars and clubs, and teaching music at Essex County College in Newark, N.J.” Including, but not limited to composing a symphony, leading the Duke Ellington Alumni band, and touring nationally and internationally.

    Perhaps I’ll be allowed to edit what is represented here.

    Thanks again everyone – alway keep swingin’!

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