As reported by Stereogum, acclaimed jazz musician Ellis Marsalis Jr.—the patriarch of a musical family that includes fellow jazz legends Branford and Wynton Marsalis—has died from complications of the coronavirus. This news was first confirmed by New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell, who referred to Marsalis as “the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz,” adding that “words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy, and the wonder he showed the world.” Marsalis was 85.
Marsalis was born in New Orleans in 1934 and played saxophone in high school, though by college he began playing the piano and studying classical music. After college and a stint in the Marines, he began playing with jazz icons of the ‘60s and ‘70s like Nat and Cannonball Adderley, Ed Blackwell, and Al Hirt. Rather than remain as a performer, though, Marsalis chose instead to prioritize teaching, working at the New Orleans Center For Creative Arts, the University Of New Orleans, and Xavier University Of Louisiana, with his students including famed musicians like Harry Connick Jr., Terrence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, and Donald Harrison, not to mention his four musician sons, Delfeayo, Jason, and the aforementioned Wynton and Branford.
That being said, Marsalis was still a prolific artist, appearing on dozens of albums over the course of his life, especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s as his sons helped institute a jazz revival. He released 20 albums of his own, 10 with his family, and then another 30 or so in addition to that. In 2011, he and his sons received the Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment For The Arts, he earned an honorary doctorate from Tulane University in 2007, and in 2018 he was inducted in the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame. Also, as Stereogum points out, he played a weekly residency at New Orleans jazz club Snug Harbor for years, right up until December of last year.