Jazz icon Ellis Marsalis dead at 85 fighting COVID-19


This April 28, 2019, file photo, shows Ellis Marsalis during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Wednesday, April 1, 2020, that Marsalis has died. He was 85. (AP Photo/Sophia Germer, File)

Andres Fuentes, Pack News

The New Orleans music scene mourns the loss of Ellis Marsalis Jr., a local musician that made strides in the local jazz scene and educated generations of musicians. 

The 85-year-old died on April 1 from pneumonia brought on by COVID-19. 

He went out the way he lived: embracing reality,” his son Wynton Marsalis tweeted. 

Marsalis had been hospitalized in Orleans Parish and was tested for the coronavirus. However the result was not available before he died. 

His death garnered  tributes from local and national figures. 

In a statement, Mayor LaToya Cantrell spoke about the legacy Marsalis leaves behind.

“He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz,” she said. “Words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy and the wonder he showed the world. This loss cuts us deeply.”

Along with his music career, Marsalis will live on through his six sons, four of which are musicians: Wynton, trumpeter and artistic director of jazz at New York’s Lincoln Center. Branford, a saxophonist who led The Tonight Show band and toured with Sting. Delfeayo, a trombonist and -recording producer. And Jason, a percussionist, has made a name for himself with his own band and as an accompanist.

Marsalis also inspired students as a  jazz educator at the University of New Orleans, Xavier University and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

He also has a Loyola connection, earning a Master of Music Education from the university in 1986 and an honorary doctorate in 2007 for his contributions to music and education. 

“This is a devastating blow,” said University President Tania Tetlow. “Ellis was a patriarch to all of us in New Orleans, a teacher and father figure.”

During his nearly 30 years as an educator, some of Marsalis’ prominent students included Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison Jr., Nicholas Payton, Kent and Marlon Jordan and Irvin Mayfield

Among his many honors, Marsalis was named to the Louisiana Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts honored him as an NEA Jazz Master, together with his musician sons. He is also the namesake of the Ellis Marsalis Center. It was created  to provide homes for musicians and displaced citizens after Hurricane Katrina.