Ellis Marsalis, New Orleans Jazz Pianist and Musical Patriarch, Dead at 85

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Ellis Marsalis, New Orleans Jazz Pianist and Musical Patriarch, Dead at 85

Ellis Marsalis, the renowned New Orleans jazz pianist and father of four accomplished jazz musicians passed away on Wednesday (April 1) at the age of 85. Earlier this week, Marsalis was hospitalized and tested for coronavirus. His son Branford confirmed to the New York Times that the cause of death stemmed from complications due to COVID-19.

Marsalis was born in 1934 in New Orleans and had an early affinity for jazz music. Originally a saxophone player, Marsalis eventually switched to piano, which led to his prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s. During this time, Marsalis recorded nearly 20 albums and was featured on a plethora of others.

In the 1970s, Marsalis began teaching jazz music, most notably to his four sons who each took up their own jazz instrument: Branford, a saxophonist, Delfeayo, a trombonist, Jason a drummer and Wynton, a trumpeter and composer who is the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Marsalis’ grandson Slauson Malone (Jasper Marsalis) is a former member of Standing on the Corner.

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

Listen to a 1970 recording of a conversation with Ellis Marsalis along with the New Orleans Modern Jazz Allstars performance of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” from the Paste archives.

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