Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr. (November 14, 1934 – April 1, 2020) was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was a jazz pianist and educator. Although he was active since the late 1940s, Ellis Marsalis Jr came to greater attention in the 1980s and 1990s as the patriarch of a musical family, with his sons Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis rising to international acclaim.
Ellis Marsalis Jr played saxophone during high school but switched to piano while studying classical music at Dillard University, where he graduated in 1955 before attending graduate school at Loyola University New Orleans. In the 1950s and 1960s he worked with Ed Blackwell, Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, and Al Hirt.
During the 1970s, he taught at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. His students included Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr., Donald Harrison, Kent Jordan, Marlon Jordan, and Nicholas Payton.
Though he recorded almost twenty of his own albums and was featured on many discs with such musicians as David “Fathead” Newman, Eddie Harris, Marcus Roberts, and Courtney Pine, he shunned the spotlight to focus on teaching. Marsalis’s approach to teaching, combined with an interest in philosophy, encouraged his students to make discoveries in music on their own, through experiment and very careful listening.
As a leading educator at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana, Ellis influenced the careers of countless musicians, as well as his four musician sons: Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason. Marsalis retired from UNO in 2001. In May 2007, Marsalis received an honorary doctorate from Tulane University for his contributions to jazz and musical education.
Ellis Marsalis Jr was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2018.
Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr and his wife Delores Ferdinand had six sons Branford (1960), Wynton (1961), Ellis III (1964), Delfeayo (1965), Mboya (1971), and Jason (1977). Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason also became jazz musicians, while Ellis III is a poet, photographer, and network engineer.
The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music at Musicians’ Village in New Orleans is named in his honor. In 2010, The Marsalis Family released a live album titled Music Redeems which was recorded at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC as part of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. All proceeds from the sale of the album went directly to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.
Ellis Marsalis Jr and his sons were group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award.
On April 1, 2020, Ellis Marsalis Jr died aged 85 after being hospitalized with COVID-19 (coronavirus).
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