Ellis Marsalis Dies: Noted Jazz Educator, Father Of Wynton And Branford Marsalis Was 85

Bruce Haring

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Ellis Marsalis, a jazz patriarch in New Orleans and father of Wynton and Brandon Marsalis, has died. He was being treated at a local hospital with suspected COVID-19 infection, but the test results have not yet been returned, according to a family member.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell praised him in a tweeted statement. “Ellis Marsalis was a legend. He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz. The love and the prayers of all of our people go out to his family, and to all of those whose lives he touched.”

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Marsalis was a noted teacher in New Orleans and a frequent performer at festivals.

Jazz trumper Terence Blanchad, a former student, sent out his appreciation on social media. “This man is the beginning and the reason I am who I am,” Blanchard said.

Ellis Marsalis Jr. achieved a degree in music education from Dillard University, switching to piano from his early days on clarinet. He worked as a sideman for Ornette Coleman and Nat and Cannonball Adderley for a time, but when family life called, he took a teaching position at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts High School in the early 1970s.

Besides Blanchard, his students included Harry Connick Jr., Donald Harrison and Nicholas Payton. Marsalis became the first chair of the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans in 1989, retiring just last year.

Marsalis’s most impressive teaching was to his six sons with wife Dolores: Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, Mboya Kinyatta and Jason.

No details on a memorial service have been announced as yet.

 

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