In Memoriam: Ellis Marsalis (1934–2020)

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Ellis Marsalis (1934–2020)

(Photo: Courtesy of Nu Jazz Agency)

Pianist ​Ellis Marsalis, the head of a New Orleans family that significantly impacted how jazz is seen and heard across the world, died Wednesday. He was 85.

The elder Marsalis reportedly suffered COVID-19 symptoms and was awaiting test results.

“Ellis Marsalis was a legend. He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement. “The love and the prayers of all of our people go out to his family, and to all of those whose lives he touched. 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. This loss cuts us deeply. May we wrap his family in our love and our gratitude, and may we honor his memory by coming together in spirit—even as the outbreak keeps us apart, for a time.”

About a year ago, Marsalis appeared with his sons—Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis—at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Its 2020 edition likely will be rescheduled.

The pianist, also a lauded educator in New Orleans, was the namesake of a piano competition, as well as an NEA Jazz Master. Fittingly, he was enshrined along with his family in 2011.

In addition to playing on several of his sons’ albums, he also recorded many discs as a leader himself, including Ellis Marsalis Trio (Blue Note, 1991), Whistle Stop (Columbia, 1994) and On The First Occasion (Elm, 2013). DB