Jazz Pianist and Musical Family Patriarch Ellis Marsalis Jr. Dead at 85

Photo: Getty Images/2017 Erika Goldring

Ellis Marsalis Jr., the celebrated New Orleans jazz pianist who raised and mentored four jazz musician sons, died on Wednesday at the age of 85. Marsalis had been hospitalized earlier this week and tested for coronavirus, with son Branford confirming the cause of death was due to complications stemming from COVID-19, according to the New York Times.

Born in New Orleans in 1934, Marsalis initially took up the saxophone before switching to the piano early in his career. He rose to prominence as a jazz pianist in the 50’s and 60’s, recording almost 20 of his own albums and appearing on countless others. In the 1970s, Marsalis began his career as a music educator, teaching a generation of jazz musicians including his four sons Branford, a saxophonist; Delfeayo, a trombonist; Jason, a drummer; and Wynton, a trumpeter and composer who currently serves as the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

“Ellis Marsalis was a legend,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans wrote on Twitter. “He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz.” Marsalis was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008. Social-media posts for the jazz pianist and musical patriarch have begun to pour in, some of which can be read below.

Jazz Pianist Ellis Marasalis Jr. Dead at 85