Publication: The Times-Picayune
Date: February 1, 2012
Author: Keith Spera
In a city known for musical families, few have affected the jazz community in New Orleans and beyond as greatly as the Marsalis clan. As a fluent pianist and composer, patriarch Ellis Marsalis Jr. has gigged with Al Hirt’s band and Bob French’s Storyville Jazz Band, led his own groups and released his own albums.
As a music educator, he taught at Xavier University, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Virginia Commonwealth University. His students included Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard, Irvin Mayfield and Donald Harrison Jr.
In 1989, he returned to New Orleans from Virginia to establish the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans. He encouraged his students to perform at local nightclubs, simultaneously gaining experience and infusing the scene with fresh talent. He continues to perform most Friday nights at Snug Harbor.
Four of his and wife Dolores’ six sons are professional musicians.
Branford Marsalis, a saxophonist with an especially modernist approach, served as the bandleader on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and recorded and performed with the pop star Sting, among many others. He founded a jazz record label, Marsalis Music, and now lives in North Carolina.
By the mid-1990s, Wynton Marsalis was arguably the world’s best-known and most successful jazz trumpeter alive. Impeccably attired, he infuses his classic bebop with his New Orleans pedigree. In 1997, he became the first non-classical musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for music.
Wynton Marsalis is artistic director of New York’s prestigious Jazz at Lincoln Center. Exceptionally prolific, his output encompasses classical albums, small- and large-ensemble jazz albums, and collaborations with the likes of Willie Nelson and Eric Clapton.
Delfeayo Marsalis, a trombonist, conjures ambitious jazz concept albums but devotes most of his energies to producing albums by other artists, including his brothers.
The youngest sibling, Jason Marsalis, is a drummer and vibraphonist who leads his own groups and tours and records internationally as an in-demand sideman.
In 2001 at the UNO Lakefront Arena, Ellis and his four sons shared a stage for the first time in a concert marking his retirement from UNO.
After Hurricane Katrina, Branford and Connick partnered with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity to develop the Musicians’ Village in the upper 9th Ward. In 2011, the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, a multimillion-dollar performance hall and community center, opened as the centerpiece of the village and a testament to the senior Marsalis’ enduring influence.