You are here: / Media / Music / Ellis Marsalis, Jazz Pianist and Music Family Patriarch, Dies at 85 by Giovanni Russonello and Michael Levenson

Ellis Marsalis, Jazz Pianist and Music Family Patriarch, Dies at 85 by Giovanni Russonello and Michael Levenson

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

Ellis Marsalis Jr., the patriarch of a New Orleans musical family, known for his brand of modern jazz as well as for educating generations of musicians as a teacher, has died, according to a family member. He was 85. Marsalis had been hospitalized and was tested for coronavirus, but the result was not available Wednesday, the family member told WWL-TV anchor Eric Paulsen. In a statement Wednesday, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city lost a legend when Marsalis died. “He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz,” Cantrell said. “He was a teacher, a father, and an icon — and words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy and the wonder he showed the world. This loss cuts us deeply.” Marsalis is the father of internationally-known jazz musicians Branford (the saxophonist, who led Jay Leno’s band on The Tonight Show), Wynton (trumpeter and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York), Delfeayo (trombonist, a record producer and performer) and Jason Marsalis (a drummer). Two other sons, Ellis III, a photographer-poet, and Mboya, did not follow their father into music.

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

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 in New Orleans. He was 85.

The cause was complications of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, his son Branford said in a statement.

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

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. To learn more go to the link below:

PureHistory
PureHistory.org ℗ is your source to learn about the broad and beautiful spectrum of our shared History.