Coronavirus Leads to Death of New Orleans Jazz Legend

Ellis Marsalis Jr. had pneumonia caused by COVID-19
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 2, 2020 2:54 AM CDT
Jazz Legend Ellis Marsalis Jr. Dies From Virus Complications
In this May 5, 2013 photo, jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Ellis Marsalis Jr., jazz pianist, teacher, and patriarch of a New Orleans musical clan that includes famed performer sons Wynton and Branford, has died after battling pneumonia brought by the coronavirus, one of his sons said late Wednesday. He was 85. Ellis Marsalis III confirmed in an interview with the AP that his father's death was brought about by the virus that is causing the global pandemic. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced the musician's death in a somber news release Wednesday night. The elder Marsalis had continued to perform regularly in New Orleans until December. "Ellis Marsalis was a legend. He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz,” Cantrell said. "He was a teacher, a father, and an icon."

Four of the jazz patriarch's six sons are musicians: Wynton, the trumpeter, is America's most prominent jazz spokesman as artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. Branford, the saxophonist, led the Tonight Show band and toured with Sting. Delfeayo, the trombonist, is a prominent recording producer and performer. And Jason, the drummer, has made a name for himself with his own band and as an accompanist. Because Marsalis opted to stay in New Orleans for most of his career, his reputation was limited until his sons became famous and brought him the spotlight, along with new recording contracts. "He was like the coach of jazz. He put on the sweatshirt, blew the whistle, and made these guys work," says Nick Spitzer, host of public radio’s American Routes.

(More jazz stories.)

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