Ellis Marsalis in 1990
Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images
Pianist And New Orleans Jazz Staple Ellis Marsalis Dies At 85
Legendary New Orleans jazz pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis has officially passed away at the age of 85, as confirmed by the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.
The musician who prominently served as the patriarch of a family of internationally successful jazz artists including his sons Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, Jason Marsalis, was reportedly admitted into the hospital this past weekend after experiencing symptoms of pneumonia. His son Branford confirmed that the cause of death was COVID-19 complications.
In a statement made via Twitter, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell expressed her condolences, recognizing the lasting impact that Marsalis had on his fans, students and jazz communities around the world. “He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz,” she wrote. “Ellis Marsalis was an icon… and words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy and the wonder he showed the world."
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. pic.twitter.com/evIBCJk7Z3
— Mayor LaToya Cantrell (@mayorcantrell) April 2, 2020
Among his students including Donald Harrison, Terence Blanchard and his four sons, many went on to lead a late 20th-century renaissance movement that committed itself to traditionalist styles in American jazz. As an instructor, he was described as "rigorous but supportive."
Following the news, others including Apple CEO Tim Cook, GRAMMY-winning bandleader and composer Eddie Palmieri, the Miles Davis estate and more galvanized to share their own stories and memories about Marsalis’ profound career and resounding impact.
Yesterday we lost an incredible musical teacher in Ellis Marsalis, beloved pianist and arranger. I’m glad to have met him when I did & his contributions to the world of jazz are countless. My deepest condolences are with his sons & the rest of his family. May he rest in rhythm pic.twitter.com/7qnh91jhTZ
— Eddie Palmieri (@EddiePalmieri) April 2, 2020
Ellis Marsalis, 1934 - 2020
He went out the way he lived: embracing reality pic.twitter.com/sPyYUuBoIG
— Wynton Marsalis (@wyntonmarsalis) April 2, 2020
Our condolences to the Marsalis family on the passing of the global patriarch of jazz, Mr. Ellis Marsalis. Erin and I, along with director Stanley Nelson, were honored to have him attend the New Orleans screening of Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/LUEK4lCENu
— Miles Davis (@milesdavis) April 2, 2020
Ellis Marsalis was a true legend. In his music, his passion for New Orleans and his steadfast dedication to education, he showed us all the power of community. He’ll be missed dearly. My thoughts are with his sons who carry on his legacy. @EMCMnola pic.twitter.com/ty68Ipo6fw
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) April 2, 2020
In his life, Marsalis recorded over 15 studio albums as a bandleader and influenced the musical careers of numerous artists in his teaching stints at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the University of New Orleans and Xavier University of Louisiana before opening his own center for music, focused on fostering a safe and positive environment for youth and underserved learners in the city’s 9th ward.
In 2011, Marsalis and his four sons were recognized as Jazz Masters by the National Endowment for the Arts, signifying the family of artists as one of the most substantiated in the history of jazz. The title of “Jazz Master” is considered the highest distinction an American Jazz musician can receive.
For those who want to ensure that Ellis’s legacy lives on, please consider making a donation to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. \You can find out more about the Center here: https://www.ellismarsaliscenter.org/ The Center provides instruction in music and the arts, academic support, and even basic food security for hundreds of kids from the 9thWard, as well as providing a world-class performance and recording space for local musicians, many of whom live in the adjacent Musician’s Village that Branford, Harry Connick and Ann Marie worked with Habitat for Humanity to build after Katrina.