Ellis Marsalis, Patriarch Of New Orleans’ Most Famous Musical Family, Has Died ~ NPR

Ellis Marsalis performs during the 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Music Festival.

Tyler Kaufman/FilmMagic/Getty Images

 

 

Ellis Marsalis, jazz pianist, educator, and patriarch of the Marsalis family, has died at the age of 85. His death was announced in tweets from New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Jazz at Lincoln Center, where his son Wynton is managing and artistic director.

He reportedly went into the hospital over the weekend with symptoms of pneumonia. The New York Times reports that his son Branford says the cause of death was complications from COVID-19.

Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr. was born on Nov. 14, 1934. He graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans with a B.A. in music education, and that was the field to which he devoted himself. Despite playing with such notable jazz musicians as Cannonball and Nat Adderley, he was most proud of his work as an educator. His music students included Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Harry Connick Jr. and four of his sons: Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis.

Ellis Marsalis taught at the first full-time public arts high school in New Orleans, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where he instructed students on the harsh realities of pursuing a career in the arts.

The former Marine put it this way to NPR in 1985: “There is no such thing as fair. The world’s not fair, it’s not about being fair.”

Marsalis went on to become Commonwealth Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond before returning to his hometown to teach at the University of New Orleans. Yet he still managed to record more than 15 albums of his own, in addition to collaborations with his sons.

And on top of all that, he played a weekly gig at a small New Orleans club, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, for three decades before retiring just this year.

 

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Ellis Marsalis Jr., Jazz Pianist and Patriarch, Dies at 85 ~ NYT

The father of Wynton and Branford Marsalis and a prominent performer and educator, he succumbed to complications of the coronavirus.

Ellis Marsalis Jr. with three of his sons, Delfeayo, left, Branford and Wynton, in 2011.
Credit…Chad Batka for The New York Times

 

 

Ellis Marsalis, a pianist and educator who became the guiding force behind a late-20th-century resurgence in jazz, while putting four musician sons on a path to prominent careers, died on Wednesday. He was 85.

The cause was complications of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, his son Branford said in a statement, which did not specify where he died.

Mr. Marsalis spent decades as a working musician and teacher in New Orleans before his eldest sons, Wynton and Branford, who embodied a fresh-faced revival of traditional jazz, gained national fame in the early 1980s.

Mr. Marsalis’s star rose along with theirs, and he, too, became a household name.

“Ellis Marsalis was a legend,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans wrote on Twitter on Wednesday night. “He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz.”

That was not always so. Mr. Marsalis’s devotion to midcentury bebop and its offshoots had long made him something of an outsider in a city with an abiding loyalty to its early-jazz roots. Still, he secured the respect of fellow musicians thanks to his unshakable talents as a pianist and composer, and his supportive but rigorous manner as an educator.

Once they reached the national stage, the Marsalises’ advocacy of straight-ahead jazz made them renegades of a different sort. Wynton, a trumpeter, boldly espoused his father’s devotion to heroes like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, and he issued public broadsides against the slicker jazz-rock fusion that had largely displaced acoustic jazz during the late 1960s and ’70s.

Photogenic, erudite and fabulously talented, Mr. Marsalis’s children and many other young jazz musicians he had taught — including Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison Jr., Harry Connick Jr. and Nicholas Payton — became the leaders in a burgeoning traditionalist movement, loosely referred to as the Young Lions.

“My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father,” Branford Marsalis said in a statement. “He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be.”

In an acknowledgment of the patriarch’s influence as well as his own talents, the National Endowment for the Arts in 2011 named Mr. Marsalis and his musician sons as N.E.A. Jazz Masters. It is considered the highest honor for an American jazz musician, and until then it had been awarded only on an individual basis.

By that point, the Marsalises were widely understood to be jazz’s royal family. Wynton had become the founding artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, the world’s pre-eminent nonprofit organization devoted to jazz, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1997. Branford was a world-renowned saxophonist and bandleader with three Grammys to his name. Delfeayo, a trombonist, and Jason, a drummer and vibraphonist, were also well established as bandleaders.

 

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