“My father was a giant in music and education, but an even bigger father. He put everything he had to allow us to develop the best of ourselves. “ These words from saxophonist Branford Marsalis sum up the importance of the jazz legacy left by Ellis Marsalis, who has just died at the age of 85 from the Covid-19 suites. The native of New Orleans, this city fertile in terms of swing where he will have spent most or all of his career, leaves behind a lineage which will have marked jazz since the 1980s: in addition to the elder already mentioned, other of his sons made a career, Delfeayo on the trombone, Jason, the youngest, on drums, and then especially Wynton, trumpeter and leader of a certain orthodoxy who will never fail to salute all that he should to his father, “So cool”, as reported by New york times at the hour of remembrance.
Whoever started on the saxophone before choosing the piano in the mid-1950s will have made a good career himself, holding out for a long time during a weekly gig at Snug Harbor, a club of the Big Easy, engraving twenty albums under his name , including a very beautiful solo in 1991, while discreetly illustrating himself as a sideman. He was associated with some of the city’s great names, including the great Ed Blackwell, master of brooms, then later with David Fathead Newman or Eddie Harris, and of course with his own children.
But it is especially as a teacher that the name of Ellis Louis Marsalis will remain in jazz legend for a long time. Over the decades, in different institutions including the famous NOCCA (New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts) and the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition of which he was a member of the jury, the one who got along like an eternal student, “The secret to listening”, will have transmitted his love of music to generations. Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr, Trombone Shorty to name just three, among the most famous on a long list.
To these, we must add the drummer Brian Blade, whose sense of swing and groove science typical of New Orleans were instilled in him by this mentor in particular. As he confided at the release of his album Mama Rosa here are about ten years: “What Ellis Marsalis did for me went far beyond teaching. I had become a member of the family. “ The same year, the immense Chucho Valdés, mentor of the Cuban piano, paid tribute to his masters of blue note: John Coltrane, Joe Zawinul, Art Blakey and Ellis Marsalis. Without a doubt one of the most beautiful recognitions of this man in the shadows who, at the time of his burial, will probably not be able to benefit, due to the epidemic, from the traditional jazz funeral, these final processions that celebrate the New Orleans people one last time.