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Ellis Marsalis Jr.

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Ellis Marsalis Jr.
Marsalis in 2007
Marsalis in 2007
Background information
Birth nameEllis Louis Marsalis Jr.
Born(1934-11-14)November 14, 1934
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedApril 1, 2020(2020-04-01) (aged 85)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
GenresJazz, classical
Occupation(s)Musician, educator
Years active1949–2020
LabelsElm, Blue Note, Columbia, Sony, AFO Records

Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr.[1] (November 14, 1934 – April 1, 2020) was an American jazz pianist and educator. Active since the late 1940s, Marsalis came to greater attention in the 1980s and 1990s as the patriarch of the musical Marsalis family, when sons Branford and Wynton became popular jazz musicians.

Early life[edit]

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Marsalis was the son of Florence Marie (née Robertson) and Ellis Marsalis Sr., a businessman and social activist.[2][3] Marsalis and his wife Dolores Ferdinand Marsalis had six sons: Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, Mboya, and Jason. Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason also became jazz musicians.[4] Ellis III is a poet and photographer.[5]

Marsalis played tenor saxophone and piano during high school, and performed locally with a rhythm and blues band that included pianist Roger Dickerson. After high school, Marsalis served a year in the Marine Corps where he performed on piano for the majority of his duty. He subsequently attended Dillard University, where he graduated in 1955 with a degree in music education.[6] While attending Dillard, he worked as the high school band director at what was then Xavier University Preparatory School on Magazine Street, where he witnessed the classical playing of one of the students, piano prodigy James Booker. Marsalis later attended graduate school at Loyola University New Orleans.[6] 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 have included Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr., Donald Harrison, Kent Jordan, Marlon Jordan, and Nicholas Payton.[7]

Musical career[edit]

Marsalis recorded nearly 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.[8] As a teacher, he encouraged his students to learn from history while also making discoveries in music on their own.[9] "We don't teach jazz, we teach students," he once said about his ability to teach jazz improvisation.[5] As a leading educator at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana, Marsalis influenced the careers of countless musicians, as well as his four musician sons: Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason. Marsalis retired from UNO in 2001.[6] In May 2007, Marsalis received an honorary doctorate from Tulane University for his contributions to jazz and musical education.[10]


Marsalis was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2018.[4] 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, D.C., as part of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. All proceeds from the sale of the album go directly to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.[11]

Marsalis was a fraternity brother of Phi Beta Sigma and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.[12][13] In 2015, Marsalis was named Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia's 24th Man of Music, their highest honor given to a member, for advancing the cause of music in America through performance, composition or any other musical activity.[13] In 2018, Marsalis was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Berklee College of Music during its 50th annual High School Jazz Festival.[14]

Marsalis received a Grammy Trustees Award posthumously in 2023,[15] accepted in his absence by his son Jason and granddaughter Marley.


On April 1, 2020, Marsalis died at the age of 85 from pneumonia brought on by COVID-19.[4][6][16] Municipal pandemic safety measures precluded a traditional jazz funeral procession.[17] The short documentary film titled Death Is Our Business by Frontline briefly covered the situation when investigating the pandemic's effects on the New Orleans funeral industry.[18]

Personal life[edit]

Marsalis and his wife were Catholic and raised all their children in the faith.[19] The youngest of his sons is Mboya Kenyatta Marsalis, who is diagnosed with autism and is cared for by his brother Delfeayo since their father's death. Their mother, Dolores, died in 2017.[20]

Marsalis and his sons were group recipients of the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters Award.[21]


As leader[edit]

  • 1985 Syndrome[22]
  • 1985 Homecoming with Eddie Harris (Spindletop)[22]
  • 1986 Piano in E[22]
  • 1989 A Night at Snug Harbor, New Orleans (Somethin' Else)[22]
  • 1990 Ellis Marsalis Trio (Blue Note)[22]
  • 1991 Jazzy Wonderland (Columbia)[22]
  • 1991 Heart of Gold (Columbia)[22]
  • 1993 Whistle Stop (Columbia)[22]
  • 1994 Joe Cool's Blues with Wynton Marsalis (Columbia)[22]
  • 1996 Loved Ones with Branford Marsalis (Columbia)[23]
  • 1998 Twelve's It (Sony)[22]
  • 1999 Duke in Blue (Sony)[22]
  • 2000 Afternoon Session (Music in the Vines/Sonoma Jazz)[22]
  • 2005 Ruminations in New York[22]
  • 2008 An Open Letter to Thelonious (Elm)[22]
  • 2011 A New Orleans Christmas Carol (Elm)[22]
  • 2012 Pure Pleasure for the Piano with Makoto Ozone (ECM)[22]
  • 2013 On the First Occasion (Elm)[22]
  • 2017 Live at Jazzfest 2017[22]
  • 2018 The Ellis Marsalis Quintet Plays the Music of Ellis Marsalis[24]

As sideman or guest[edit]

With American Jazz Quintet

  • 1987 From Bad to Badder[25]
  • 1996 In the Beginning[25]

With Branford Marsalis

With Delfeayo Marsalis

  • 1997 Musashi[25]
  • 2014 The Last Southern Gentlemen[25]

With Wynton Marsalis

With Marsalis family

  • 2002 Marsalis Family: A Jazz Celebration[26]
  • 2010 Music Redeems[25]

With Irvin Mayfield

With Kermit Ruffins

  • 1992 World on a String[25]
  • 1996 Hold on Tight[25]

With Dave Young

  • 1996 Two by Two Vol. 2[25]

With others

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Handy, D. Antoinette (1999). Jazz Man's Journey: A Biography of Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9781578860067. OCLC 680174719. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  2. ^ "Ancestry of Wynton Marsalis". wargs.com. Archived from the original on June 5, 2015. Retrieved June 22, 2015.
  3. ^ Antoinette Handy, D. (1999). Jazz Man's Journey: A Biography of Ellis Louis Marsalis, Jr. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9781578860067.
  4. ^ a b c Levenson, Michael; Carmel, Julia (April 1, 2020). "Ellis Marsalis Jr., Jazz Pianist and Patriarch of a Musical Family, Dies at 85". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 2, 2020. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Jazz great Ellis Marsalis dead at 85 from coronavirus". Brisbane Times. April 3, 2020. Archived from the original on April 4, 2020. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d MacCash, Doug (April 1, 2020). "Ellis Marsalis, New Orleans jazz piano legend hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms, dies". The New Orleans Advocate. Archived from the original on April 2, 2020. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  7. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Ellis Marsalis". AllMusic. Archived from the original on July 12, 2018. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  8. ^ Adams, Ron (April 3, 2020). "RIP Ellis Marsalis Jr (1934-2020)". London Jazz News. Archived from the original on April 5, 2020. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  9. ^ West, Michael J. (April 2, 2020). "Ellis Marsalis 1934–2020 / The jazz world mourns a beloved pianist and teacher—and the head of a royal New Orleans family". jazztimes.com. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  10. ^ "Piano Master Brings Jazz to Campus". Tulane University. October 21, 2010. Archived from the original on October 3, 2015. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  11. ^ Jarenwattananon, Patrick (August 15, 2010). "First Listen: The Marsalis Family, 'Music Redeems'". NPR. Archived from the original on April 4, 2020. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
  12. ^ Chapman, Maria (July 17, 2017). "Phi Beta Sigma shows commitment to community". The Detroit News. Archived from the original on June 9, 2019. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  13. ^ a b "Sinfonia Names 24th Man of Music". Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America. June 2, 2015. Archived from the original on September 15, 2015. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  14. ^ "Berklee High School Jazz Festival celebrates its 50th – JazzBoston". Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  15. ^ Enos, Morgan (February 16, 2023). "Ellis Marsalis Honored With Recording Academy Special Merit Award". www.grammy.com. Retrieved May 3, 2023.
  16. ^ Norton, LaTonya (April 1, 2020). "Mayor Cantrell Issues Statement on the Passing of Ellis Marsalis" (Press release). New Orleans, LA: City of New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Govdelivery. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  17. ^ Yawn, Andrew J.; Clark, Maria; Price, Todd A. (April 25, 2020). "Jazz funerals, normally a 'celebration of life,' are silenced: New Orleans grieves differently now". USA Today. Retrieved October 8, 2021.
  18. ^ "Death Is Our Business". PBS.org. March 23, 2021. Retrieved October 8, 2021.
  19. ^ Bordelon, Christine (January 16, 2020). "Ellis Marsalis influenced many of today's artists". Clarion Herald. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  20. ^ World loses New Orleans musical patriarch Ellis Marsalis Jr. to coronavirus, National Catholic Reporter, Jason Berry, April 18, 2020. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  21. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces the 2011 NEA Jazz Masters". Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts. June 24, 2010. Archived from the original on September 17, 2010. Retrieved July 19, 2010. For the first time in the program's 29-year history, in addition to four individual awards, the NEA will present a group award to the Marsalis family, New Orleans' venerable first family of jazz.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Ellis Marsalis | Album Discography | AllMusic". AllMusic. Archived from the original on July 12, 2018. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  23. ^ "Loved Ones". Archived from the original on February 10, 2006. Retrieved February 10, 2006.
  24. ^ CD purchased at 2019 performance in NOLA
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj "Ellis Marsalis | Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Archived from the original on July 12, 2018. Retrieved July 12, 2018.
  26. ^ "Marsalis Family | A Jazz Celebration". Archived from the original on May 22, 2006. Retrieved May 22, 2006.
  27. ^ Chris Stewart. "62-0509a". cannonballjazz.com. Archived from the original on August 12, 2015. Retrieved June 22, 2015.

External links[edit]