This April 28, 2019 photo, shows Ellis Marsalis during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans.
Jazz musician Ellis Marsalis, a local legend in New Orleans and patriarch of one of the most accomplished families in the genre, died on Wednesday after being hospitalized with symptoms of coronavirus. He was 85 years old.
“Ellis Marsalis was a legend,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement announcing his death. “He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz. The love and the prayers of all of our people go out to his family, and to all of those whose lives he touched. He was a teacher, a father, and an icon ... This loss cuts us deeply.”
Marsalis was perhaps best known nationally as the father of a pair of widely known jazz artists — Wynton, a trumpeter who is artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Branford, who played saxophone and led “The Tonight Show” band for Jay Leno in the ’90s. But in New Orleans he was a fixture in the jazz scene as both a pianist and a teacher.
In a tweet, Jazz at Lincoln Center called Marsalis “one of the most renowned artists and music educators in his time.”
Actor Wendell Pierce, a Julliard graduate and New Orleans native best known for his role of Bunk on “The Wire,” tweeted, “With the deepest and most profound sadness, I grieve the passing of a true jazz master, icon of our culture, historic in the story of New Orleans, and profound in his influence in the evolution of music along with many lives. Father. Mentor. Teacher. Genius. RIP Ellis Marsalis.”
There is not yet a confirmed cause of death for Marsalis. He was tested for COVID-19 at the hospital, but those results had not yet come back by the time he passed away.