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Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?

 

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For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.

 

Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.

 

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    MARY LOU WILLIAMS     

            INTERVIEW

       In Her Own Words

Ellis Marsalis, Patriarch Of New Orleans' Most Famous Musical Family, Has Died

Ellis Marsalis, Patriarch Of New Orleans' Most Famous Musical Family, Has Died

Ellis Marsalis performs during the 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Music Festival.

Tyler Kaufman/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Ellis Marsalis, jazz pianist, educator, and patriarch of the Marsalis family, has died at the age of 85. His death was announced in tweets from New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Jazz at Lincoln Center, where his son Wynton is managing and artistic director.

He reportedly went into the hospital over the weekend with symptoms of pneumonia. The New York Times reports that his son Branford says the cause of death was complications from COVID-19.

Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr. was born on Nov. 14, 1934. He graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans with a B.A. in music education, and that was the field to which he devoted himself. Despite playing with such notable jazz musicians as Cannonball and Nat Adderley, he was most proud of his work as an educator. His music students included Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Harry Connick Jr. and four of his sons: Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis.


Ellis Marsalis taught at the first full-time public arts high school in New Orleans, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where he instructed students on the harsh realities of pursuing a career in the arts.

The former Marine put it this way to NPR in 1985: "There is no such thing as fair. The world's not fair, it's not about being fair."

Marsalis went on to become Commonwealth Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond before returning to his hometown to teach at the University of New Orleans. Yet he still managed to record more than 15 albums of his own, in addition to collaborations with his sons.

And on top of all that, he played a weekly gig at a small New Orleans club, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, for three decades before retiring just this year.

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Ellis Marsalis, pianist and patriarch of jazz dynasty, dies of coronavirus at 85



Ellis Marsalis in 2013.
Ellis Marsalis in 2013. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

April 2, 2020 at 7:06 p.m. EDT

Ellis Marsalis, a pianist who launched a jazz dynasty as a teacher in his native New Orleans and was the father of four sons who became acclaimed musicians, including superstars Branford and Wynton Marsalis, died April 1 at a New Orleans hospital. He was 85.

Branford Marsalis announced the death in a statement, noting that his father had been hospitalized for complications from covid-19, the disease resulting from the novel coronavirus.


Mr. Marsalis was a leading jazz pianist in New Orleans for decades, but he did not gain widespread renown until his sons reached prominence as they helped lead a jazz revival in the 1980s.

Wynton, a trumpeter who became an outspoken advocate for a return to the early traditions of jazz, has won nine Grammy Awards, is the co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and is probably the best-known jazz musician in the world. Branford, the winner of three Grammys, toured with Sting, led the “Tonight Show” band and is one of the leading saxophonists of his generation.

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Mr. Marsalis at the Kennedy Center in 2009. Mr. Marsalis at the Kennedy Center in 2009. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Two other Marsalis sons, trombonist Delfeayo and percussionist Jason, also became musicians, making them unquestionably the American first family of jazz.

“All I did was make sure they had the best so they could be the best,” Ellis Marsalis told Ebony magazine in 1993. “They did the rest.”

He spent virtually all his life in New Orleans, the city considered the cradle of jazz and the birthplace of such seminal musical figures as Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. Even though he often struggled to make a living from music, Mr. Marsalis was seen as an enduring beacon of musical integrity who insisted on high standards for his students, his children and, above all, himself.

“He made us see life in a certain way,” Branford Marsalis said in a 1990 appearance on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” “We have a certain outlook on how we’re supposed to carry ourselves in the world and how we should see other people and treat other people that I think really has a profound effect on what we play musically.”

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Mr. Marsalis found a new musical niche in his 40s, when he taught at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a high school whose students included his sons, trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Nicholas Payton and singer-pianist Harry Connick Jr.

During the late 1980s, Mr. Marsalis taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond before returning to his hometown to lead the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans.

“I never thought of myself as a teacher,” he once told NPR. “I used to always look at myself as being a coach. Not devoid of instruction, but I was never that organized in my approach to what I was doing.”

Through it all, Mr. Marsalis remained a working musician, appearing with jazz players passing through New Orleans and, from 1967 to 1970, touring with popular trumpeter Al Hirt. Yet he was a relatively obscure regional figure until his sons’ success brought him into the spotlight.

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“My dad’s philosophy is, ‘Jazz isn’t popular. Let’s play jazz,’ ” Branford Marsalis told Jazz Times magazine in 2019. “When Wynton and I were playing in R&B bands, doing cover tunes, we were making way more money than he was. Wynton was like, ‘Doesn’t that bother you?’ ‘No, I chose this,’ [he said]. That was the end of it.”

Beginning in the 1980s, Mr. Marsalis’s rising profile led to recording contracts and occasional appearances with his sons, including with Branford on “Loved Ones,” a 1996 album containing 14 songs with women’s names in the title — including “Dear Dolores,” which Mr. Marsalis wrote for his wife.

His 1990 recording with Wynton, “The Resolution of Romance,” containing more than 20 ballads, was a portrait of musical sensitivity and a high point for both musicians.

“I heard my father playing these songs in clubs so beautifully,” Wynton said in the liner notes accompanying the album. “What I love about his style is that he’s got a serious touch and he’s always listening and always trying to make everybody in the band sound better, which is the best way to play. . . . The feeling in his playing comes through as just what it is: deep interest and concern for things human and musical.”

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After retiring from teaching in 2001, Mr. Marsalis devoted more time to performing, including regular appearances at the Snug Harbor jazz club in New Orleans. He often accompanied his four musical sons, and the Marsalis family collectively received the Jazz Masters honor from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2011.

“It’s nice to be known as a performer, but this publicity came 30 years too late,” he told his son Jason for the liner notes of their 1998 recording, “Twelve’s It.” “At this point I just want to pass information on to as many of you guys as possible.”

Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr. was born Nov. 14, 1934 in New Orleans. His parents ran a motel where many leading African American entertainers and civil rights figures stayed.

Mr. Marsalis played saxophone in his youth and did not become a full-time pianist until he was a student at New Orleans’s Dillard University, from which he graduated in 1955. He then served as a musician in the Marine Corps, appearing regularly on television while stationed in California.

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He was familiar with traditional New Orleans jazz, but he much preferred the complexities of bebop and more modern styles. He ran a nightclub at his family’s motel in the 1960s, but it soon failed. He began teaching in earnest in 1974, influencing generations of New Orleans musicians. He later received a master’s degree in musical education from Loyola University in New Orleans.

He helped instill a respect for quality and musical integrity that his sons later made their musical hallmark. He used a nutritional analogy to make his point:

“I used to tell students that it reminded me of a dessert I bought at the store once,” he told Southern Living in 1992. “I looked on the box and there were no natural ingredients in it at all. . . . [In jazz] we were still playing instruments like the saxophone, which you have to breathe into to get sounds. And the drums, which you have to strike, and the piano, which is made out of wood. There was human control over them.”

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In 1958, Mr. Marsalis was married to Dolores Ferdinand, who “commanded discipline in a house where Dad was often on the road,” Branford Marsalis told The Washington Post in 2009. She died in 2017.

In addition to Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis, survivors include two other sons, Ellis Marsalis III, a poet and photographer, and Mboya Marsalis, who is autistic and lived with his father; a sister; and 13 grandchildren.

Mr. Marsalis and his sons last performed together as a family at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2019. He gave his final performance in December at Snug Harbor. A community musical education facility was named in his honor after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Even though he played the piano professionally, Mr. Marsalis maintained a proficiency on other instruments, including the bass and saxophone.

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“I remember being in the bathroom one day and hearing a horn playing Charlie Parker” licks on the saxophone, Wynton Marsalis told DownBeat magazine in 2011. “I said, ‘Damn, Branford finally learned how to play that thing?’ I came into the living room, and it was Daddy.”


Marsalis, also the father of jazz musicians Branford and Wynton, performing in 1990
Marsalis, also the father of jazz musicians Branford and Wynton, performing in 1990
 
Frans Schellekens—Redferns/Getty Images
 
APRIL 9, 2020

One night during my freshman year in high school, I called Ellis. The famed pianist, who died April 1 at 85 due to COVID-19, was my teacher–so it was “Mr. Marsalis” then, and I was terrified. One didn’t call him at home. But I’d found a chord progression I thought had never been heard on earth, so I dialed. His deep “Hello” still echoes in my mind.

“Mr. Marsalis! Listen to what I discovered!”

I explained it thoroughly.

“That’s good,” he said. “Now I’m gonna go back to my dinner.”

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Years later, I reminded him of the story. He laughed and admitted he’d known those chords too. I asked why he hadn’t just taught them to me. “Because,” he said, “you had to figure it out yourself.”

Mr. Marsalis gave me the gift of self-discovery, a gift he shared with many others too, as he spent his last years doing what he loved, working with underserved young musicians at the New Orleans music center that bears his name. I’m a better musician–and man–because of him.

Connick is a Grammy and Emmy award-winning actor and singer

This appears in the April 20, 2020 issue of TIME.

Son: Jazz great Ellis Marsalis Jr. dead, 85; COVID involved

April 2, 2020
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CORRECTS MAYOR'S LAST NAME TO CANTRELL INSTEAD OF CAMPBELL - FILE - This April 28, 2019, file photo, shows Ellis Marsalis during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Wednesday, April 1, 2020, that Marsalis has died. He was 85. (AP Photo/Sophia Germer, File)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Ellis Marsalis Jr., the jazz pianist, teacher and patriarch of a New Orleans musical clan, died late Wednesday from pneumonia brought on by the new coronavirus, leaving six sons and a deep legacy. He was 85.

“My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father. He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be,” Branford said.

Four of the jazz patriarch’s six sons are musicians: Wynton, a Pulitzer- and Grammy-winning trumpeter, is America’s most prominent jazz spokesman as artistic director of jazz at New York’s Lincoln Center. Branford, a saxophonist, has won three Grammies, 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. Their brother Mboya has autism. Marsalis’ wife, Dolores, died in 2017.

“Pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise. But it was pneumonia brought on by COVID-19,” Ellis Marsalis III said in an Associated Press phone interview.

He said he drove Sunday from Baltimore to be with his father, who was hospitalized Saturday in Louisiana, which has been hit hard by the outbreak. Others in the family spent time with him, too.

“He went out the way he lived: embracing reality,” Wynton tweeted, alongside pictures of his father.

Branford’s statement included a text he said he got from Harvard Law Professor David Wilkins: “We can all marvel at the sheer audacity of a man who believed he could teach his black boys to be excellent in a world that denied that very possibility, and then watch them go on to redefine what excellence means for all time.”

In a statement, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said of the man who continued to perform regularly 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 aren’t 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 — Wynton has won nine Grammies and been nominated 33 times — 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 radio’s American Routes and a Tulane University anthropology professor.

The Marsalis “family band” seldom played together when the boys were younger but went on tour in 2003 in a spinoff of a family celebration, which became a PBS special when the elder Marsalis retired from teaching at the University of New Orleans.

Harry Connick Jr., one of his 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 he 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.

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.

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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 as jazz improvisation, Marsalis once said, “We don’t teach jazz, we teach students.”

In 1986 he moved to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. In 1989, the University of New Orleans lured him back to set up a jazz studies program.

Marsalis retired from UNO in 2001 but continued performing, particularly at Snug Harbor, a small club that anchored the city’s contemporary jazz scene — frequently backing young promising musicians.

His melodic style, with running improvisations in the right hand, has been described variously as romantic, contemporary, or simply “Louisiana jazz.” He was always on acoustic piano, never electric, and even in interpreting old standards there’s a clear link to the driving bebop chords and rhythms of his early years.

He founded a record company, ELM, but his recording was limited until his sons became famous. After that he joined them and others on mainstream labels and headlined his own releases, many full of his own compositions.

He often played at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. And for more than three decades he played two 75-minute sets every Friday night at Snug Harbor until he decided it was exhausting. Even then, he still performed on occasion as a special guest.

Ellis III said his father taught him the meaning of integrity before he even knew the word.

He and Delfeayo, neither of them yet 10, had gone to hear their father play at a club. Only one man — sleeping and drunk — was in the audience for the second set. The boys asked why they couldn’t leave.

“He looked at us and said, ‘I can’t leave. I have a gig.’ While he’s playing, he said, ‘A gig is a deal. I’m paid to play this set. I’m going to play this set. It doesn’t matter that nobody’s here.’ ”

THOSE WE’VE LOST

Ellis Marsalis, Jazz Pianist and Music Family Patriarch, Dies at 85

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

Ellis Marsalis with three of his sons, Delfeayo, left, Branford and Wynton, in 2011.
Ellis Marsalis with three of his sons, Delfeayo, left, Branford and Wynton, in 2011.Credit...Chad Batka for The New York Times

  • Published April 1, 2020Updated April 3, 2020

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.

Once they reached the national stage, the Marsalises’ advocacy of straight-ahead jazz made them renegades of a different sort. Wynton, a trumpeter, boldly espoused his father’s devotion to heroes like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, and he issued public broadsides against the slicker jazz-rock fusion that had largely displaced acoustic jazz during the late 1960s and ’70s.

ImageFrom left, Branford, Ellis and Wynton Marsalis in 1992 at a party in New York celebrating the release of the elder Mr. Marsalis’s album “Heart of Gold.”
From left, Branford, Ellis and Wynton Marsalis in 1992 at a party in New York celebrating the release of the elder Mr. Marsalis’s album “Heart of Gold.”Credit...Associated Press

Photogenic, erudite and fabulously talented, Mr. Marsalis’s children and many other young jazz musicians he had taught — including Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison Jr., Harry Connick Jr. and Nicholas Payton — became the leaders in a burgeoning traditionalist movement, loosely referred to as the Young Lions.


“My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father,” Branford Marsalis said in a statement. “He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be.”




In addition to those sons, Mr. Marsalis is survived by two nonmusician sons, Mboya and Ellis III; a sister, Yvette; and 15 grandchildren. Dolores Marsalis, his wife of 58 years, died in 2017.

In an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 2004, Wynton Marsalis said that his father had always led by example — expecting, rather than demanding, a high level of seriousness from his students.


“My father never put pressure on me.” he said. “He’s too cool for that kind of stuff.” Asked to define his father’s brand of cool, he explained: The house could fall down and everyone would be running around, and he would still be sitting in his same chair.”

Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr. was born in New Orleans on Nov. 14, 1934. His mother, Florence (Robertson) Marsalis, was a homemaker. His father owned the Marsalis Motel in suburban New Orleans and was involved in the civil rights movement. The motel’s guests included the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York, the future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall and Ray Charles.

Mr. Marsalis started out as a saxophonist before switching to the piano in high school. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from Dillard University in New Orleans in 1955 and taught at Xavier University Preparatory School until enlisting in the Marine Corps in the late 1950s. There he became a member of the Corps Four, a quartet of Marines that performed jazz on television and radio to aid in recruitment.

After leaving the Marines he taught briefly in Breaux Bridge, La., then returned to New Orleans with Dolores and their four children to work at his father’s motel while playing shows at night.

Mr. Marsalis performed and recorded throughout the 1960s and ’70s with a variety of modern and progressive jazz musicians, including the drummer Ed Blackwell and the eminent horn-playing brothers Cannonball and Nat Adderley.

He later earned a master’s degree in music education from Loyola University in New Orleans and led the jazz studies program at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts for high school students. It was there that he mentored such future stars as Mr. Blanchard and Mr. Connick as well as his own children.

He later taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of New Orleans, where he served for 12 years as the founding director of its jazz studies department.

ImageMr. Marsalis in performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2009. The mayor of New Orleans called him “the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz.”
Mr. Marsalis in performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2009. The mayor of New Orleans called him “the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz.”Credit...Associated Press

Reviewing a 1979 performance by Mr. Marsalis at the Carnegie Tavern in New York just before his family burst onto the national stage, John S. Wilson of The New York Times introduced him to his readers. “Unlike the widely accepted image of jazz musicians from New Orleans, Mr. Marsalis is not a traditionalist,” Mr. Wilson wrote, describing him as “an eclectic performer with a light and graceful touch” and an “exploratory turn of mind.”

Four years later, Mr. Marsalis made another New York appearance, at a next-door locale with a similar name: Carnegie Hall. There he gave a solo concert, oscillating between original compositions and jazz standards.

“Mr. Marsalis’s interpretations were impressive in their economy and steadiness,” the Times critic Stephen Holden wrote. “Sticking mainly to the middle register of the keyboard, the pianist offered richly harmonized arrangements in which fancy keyboard work was kept to a minimum and studious melodic invention, rather than pronounced bass patterns, determined the structures and tempos.”

Before Wynton and then Branford found acclaim, Mr. Marsalis had recorded only sporadically. But once they all became nationally known, that changed. In the 1990s, after the Young Lions boom he had helped unleash led major labels to reinvest in straight-ahead jazz, Mr. Marsalis released a series of albums for Blue Note and then Columbia.


In 2008, Mr. Marsalis was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

He had held a weekly gig for decades at Snug Harbor, one of New Orleans’s premier jazz clubs, before giving it up in December.

Always hungry for knowledge, Mr. Marsalis saw himself as a perpetual student. In an interview with Offbeat magazine in 1989, just after joining the faculty at the University of New Orleans, he said: “I’d like to get involved in a course on physics to get a good understanding of the physical aspects of the universe. There are literature courses I’d like to take. I might one day. I don’t buy the idea that colleges are just for young people.”

Julia Carmel contributed reporting.


Correction: April 3, 2020

An earlier version of this obituary misstated how many grandchildren survive Mr. Marsalis. There are 15, not 13.

Ellis Marsalis, jazz patriarch, dies at 85 after coronavirus diagnosis

Ellis Marsalis, a gifted pianist, was the father of four jazz stalwarts, including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

Image: obit, Ellis Marsalis
Ellis Marsalis performs at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans on April 28, 2019.Sophia Germer / AP file


April 1, 2020, 10:12 PM EDT / Updated April 2, 2020, 12:49 AM EDT
By Dennis Romero

Jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, educator and father of four noted musicians, died in New Orleans after contracting coronavirus, his son said. He was 85.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell called the musician an icon in announcing his death. The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music confirmed his death to NBC News affiliate WDSU.

The musician had the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19, and pneumonia, one of his sons told the Associated Press.


Mayor LaToya Cantrell
@mayorcantrell

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.

📸: Chris Granger/New Orleans Advocate

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Mayor LaToya Cantrell
@mayorcantrell

Ellis Marsalis was an icon — and words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy & the wonder he showed the world. May we wrap his family in our love & our gratitude, & may we honor his memory by coming together in spirit— even as the outbreak keeps us apart, for a time.

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“Pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise," Ellis Marsalis III said. "But it was pneumonia brought on by COVID-19."

WDSU described Ellis Marsalis as the patriarch of jazz music's "First Family."

Marsalis' musical sons include trumpeter Wynton, saxophonist Branford, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason.

Wynton has won nine Grammy Awards. Branford led the Tonight Show Band on the NBC show when Jay Leno hosted. He also toured with Sting.

Ellis Marsalis was a pianist and educator who performed on television in Los Angeles weekly after serving in the Marine Corps in the 1950s. He returned to New Orleans to spread the gospel of jazz at the Southern Repertory Theater, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and a local venue, Snug Harbor.



In 2006, following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina the previous year, Ellis Marsalis joined son Branford, volunteers from Habitat for Humanity and New Orleans native Harry Connick, Jr. to build 72 homes for displaced musicians in the city's Upper Ninth Ward.

The community became known as Musicians' Village and, in 2011, it was added what would become its centerpiece, the nonprofit, 17,000-square-foot Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, which includes performance space, recording facilities, a listening library and classrooms.

"Sometimes, as a gentleman once said, violence is very often the midwife of change," Marsalis told NBC News as planning and construction on the village began.

"Katrina was very violent because what you are seeing now are things that some of us talked about for years in a kind of abstract manner — a place where musicians could hang out, if you will, where musicians can go and learn," he said.

In January, he retired from performing.

RIP, Mr. Marsalis.

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