Ellis Marsalis Jr., jazz pianist, teacher and patriarch of a New Orleans musical clan that includes famed performer sons Wynton and Branford, has died after battling pneumonia brought on by the new coronavirus, one of his sons said late Wednesday. He was 85.
Ellis Marsalis III confirmed in an Associated Press phone interview that his father's death was sparked by the virus that is causing the global pandemic. "Pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise. But it was pneumonia brought on by COVID-19," he said.
He said he drove Sunday from Baltimore to be with his father as he was hospitalized in Louisiana, which has been hit hard by the outbreak. Others in the family spent time with him, too.
Four of the jazz patriarch's six sons are musicians: Wynton, trumpeter, is America's most prominent jazz spokesman as artistic director of jazz at New York's Lincoln Center. Branford, saxophonist, led The Tonight Show band and toured with Sting. Delfeayo, a trombonist, is a prominent recording producer and performer. And Jason, a percussionist, has made a name for himself with his own band and as an accompanist. Ellis III, who decided music wasn't his gig, is a photographer-poet in Baltimore.
In a statement, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said of the man who'd continued to perform regularly in New Orleans until December: “Ellis Marsalis was a legend. He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz. He was a teacher, a father, and an icon — and words arent sufficient to describe the art, the joy and the wonder he showed the world."
Because Marsalis opted to stay in New Orleans for most of his career, his reputation was limited until his sons became famous and brought him the spotlight, along with new recording contracts and headliner performances on television and tour.
"He was like the coach of jazz. He put on the sweatshirt, blew the whistle and made these guys work," said Nick Spitzer, host of public radios American Routes and a Tulane University anthropology professor.
The Marsalis "family band" seldom played together when the boys were younger but in 2003 toured East in a spinoff of a family celebration that became a PBS special when the elder Marsalis retired from teaching at the University of New Orleans.
Harry Connick Jr., one of Marsalis' students at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, was a guest. He's one of many now-famous jazz musicians who passed through Marsalis' classrooms. Others include trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Terence Blanchard, saxophonists Donald Harrison and Victor Goines, and bassist Reginald Veal.
Marsalis was born in New Orleans, son of the operator of a hotel where Marsalis met touring black musicians who couldn't stay at the segregated downtown hotels where they performed. He played saxophone in high school; he also played piano by the time he went to Dillard University.
Although New Orleans was steeped in traditional jazz, and rock 'n' roll was the new sound in the 1950s, Marsalis preferred bebop and modern jazz.
Spitzer described Marsalis as a “modernist in a town of traditionalists.”
"His great love was jazz a la bebop — he was a lover of Thelonious Monk and the idea that bebop was a music of freedom. But when he had to feed his family, he played R&B and soul and rock n roll on Bourbon Street," Spitzer said.
The musician's college quartet included drummer Ed Blackwell, clarinetist Alvin Batiste and saxophonist Harold Battiste playing modern.
Ornette Coleman was in town at the time. In 1956, when Coleman headed to California, Marsalis and the others went along, but after a few months Marsalis returned home. He told the New Orleans Times-Picayune years later, when he and Coleman were old men, that he never figured out what a pianist could do behind the free form of Coleman's jazz.
Back in New Orleans, Marsalis joined the Marine Corps and was assigned to accompany soloists on the service's weekly TV programs on CBS in New York. There, he said, he learned to handle all kinds of music styles.
Returning home, he worked at the Playboy Club and ventured into running his own club, which went bust. In 1967 trumpeter Al Hirt hired him. When not on Bourbon Street, Hirt's band appeared on national TV — headline shows on The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, among others.
Marsalis got into education about the same time, teaching improvisation at Xavier University in New Orleans. In the mid-1970s, he joined the faculty at the New Orleans magnet high school and influenced a new generation of jazz musicians.
When asked how he could teach something as free-wheeling asRead More – Source