Jazz Legend Ellis Marsalis Jr. Dead From Coronavirus
Ellis Marsalis Jr., New Orleans jazz great and patriarch of the Marsalis family, has died. In a statement, Marsalis’ son Branford said he died yesterday from complications of COVID-19. New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell reported Marsalis’ death on Twitter last night. Marsalis was 85.
Ellis Marsalis, who grew up in New Orleans, played saxophone in high school and then started playing piano while study classical music at Dillard University. In the late ’50s, he joined the Marines, where he played in a prominent group called the Corps Four. In the ’60s and ’70s, after leaving the Marines, Marsalis played with a succession of ’60s and ’70s jazz giants, including Ed Blackwell and Cannonball and Nat Adderley.
Marsalis had his greatest impact as an educator. Marsalis earned a masters degree in music education from Loyola University, and he taught in the jazz studies program at the New Orleans Center For The Creative Arts. There, his students included Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick, Jr., Donald Harrison, and Nicholas Payton. Four of Marsalis’ six sons — Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason — also became hugely prominent jazz musicians.
In the ’80s and ’90s, Marsalis’ sons and former students spurred a revival of traditionalist jazz, and Marsalis himself became a prominent musician, releasing albums on Blue Note and Columbia. Marsalis also taught as Virginia Commonwealth University and worked for 12 years as the founding director of the jazz studies department at the University Of New Orleans. For years, Marsalis played a weekly residency at Snug Harbor, a jazz club in New Orleans. He only stopped doing that in December.
Below, watch some videos of Ellis Marsalis Jr. performing.