Ellis Marsalis Jr., Jazz Pianist and Patriarch of a Musical Family, Dies at 85

Ellis Marsalis Jr., Jazz Pianist and Patriarch of a Musical Family, Dies at 85


Ellis Marsalis Jr., a prominent New Orleans jazz pianist and patriarch who mentored four musician sons, died on Wednesday at a hospital in New Orleans. He was 85.

The cause was complications of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, his son, Branford, said.

“Ellis Marsalis was a legend,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans wrote on Twitter. “He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz.”

In addition to establishing himself as a formidable pianist and musical educator, Mr. Marsalis also shaped the musical careers of his four sons: Wynton, a trumpeter and composer who is the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center; Branford, a saxophonist; Delfeayo, a trombonist; and Jason, a drummer.

Mr. Marsalis was widely regarded as an influential teacher and figurehead in jazz. But he was not a staunch traditionalist.

In 1979, when he played regular gigs at the Carnegie Tavern, at West 56th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, The New York Times described him as “an eclectic performer with a light and graceful touch, but more exploratory turn of mind.”

Mr. Marsalis’s wife, Dolores, died in 2017. He is survived by his sons, Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, MBoya and Jason; his sister Yvette; and 13 grandchildren.



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