Ellis Marsalis, New Orleans pianist and jazz icon, has died aged 85

Legendary musical patriarch and icon of the New Orleans Jazz circle, Ellis Marsalis Jr., has died at age 85.

The pianist and educator was hospitalised with COVID-19 symptoms and passed away while awaiting results.


Ellis Marsalis, legendary jazz pianist and educator, has died at the age of 85. He was awaiting on COVID-19 test results before eventually succumbing to his symptoms.

Raised in New Orleans, Marsalis began his musical journey on the sax, before switching to piano during high school. He then went on to become a mainstay in New Orleans’ jazz scene, sharing stages with Ed Blackwell, Al Hirt, Cannonball and Nat Adderly.

Marsalis recorded over 20 albums of his own, including collaborations with Courtney Pine, David ‘Fathead’ Newman and Eddie Harris.

Not only recognised for his extraordinary talent behind the keys, Marsalis provided mentorship for some of the finest musicians in jazz. Pianist Harry Connick Jr. and trumpeter Terence Blanchard both thrived under his tutelage. In addition, four of Marsalis’ six sons followed him into music.

His son, Branford Marsalis, known as a virtuosic saxophonist, said in a statement: “My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father. He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be.”

Branford continues, My friend and Harvard Law professor David Wilkins just sent me the following text: ‘We can all marvel at the sheer audacity of a man who believed he could teach his black boys to be excellent in a world that denied that very possibility, and then watch them go on to redefine what excellence means for all time.‘”