Ellis Marsalis Jr., the father to jazz musicians Wynton and Branford, has died at the age of 85 according to the Associated Press.
Marsalis, jazz pianist, teacher, and patriarch of a New Orleans musical clan, died late Wednesday after battling pneumonia that was brought on by the deadly coronavirus, it was confirmed by his son Branford. He leaves behind six sons and a deep legacy.
“My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father. He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be,” Branford said.
Ellis Marsalis, 1934 – 2020
He went out the way he lived: embracing reality pic.twitter.com/sPyYUuBoIG
— Wynton Marsalis (@wyntonmarsalis) April 2, 2020
“Pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise. But it was pneumonia brought on by COVID-19,” Ellis Marsalis III confirmed to the Associated Press via a phone interview.
The rich musical legacy of Marsalis is evident in that four of his six sons are musicians. Wynton, who plays the trumpet, is America’s most prominent jazz spokesman as artistic director of jazz at New York’s Lincoln Center. Branford, who plays the saxophone, led The Tonight Show band and toured with Sting. Delfeayo, who plays the trombone, is a prominent recording producer and performer. And Jason, a percussionist, has his own band and is also an accompanist. Ellis III didn’t take the family tradition and elected to become a photographer-poet in Baltimore.
In a statement, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said, “Ellis Marsalis was a legend. He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz. 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.”
In Branford’s statement, he included a text he said he got from Harvard Law Professor David Wilkins: “We can all marvel at the sheer audacity of a man who believed he could teach his black boys to be excellent in a world that denied that very possibility and then watch them go on to redefine what excellence means for all time.”
Marsalis’ wife, Dolores, died three years ago in 2017. He is survived by his sons Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, Mboya, and Jason.