LaToya Cantrell, mayor of his hometown, New Orleans, described Marsalis as: “A legend, the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz. “
Marsalis was a renowned pianist who helped bring the bebop style to the south of New Orleans, where big-band swing and jazz had dominated. He has performed alongside Ornette Coleman, appeared on a recording alongside hard bop stars Nat and Cannonball Adderley, and has recorded 20 solo albums. In 1987, he composed music for a recorded version of the King Midas tale, told by Michael Caine and starring cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
But he was mostly celebrated as a teacher, coaching people like Harry Connick Jr and Terence Blanchard, as well as mentoring his famous sons.
Her youngest son, Wynton, became a trumpeter riding jazz and classical music. In 1997, he was the first jazz performer to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. Branford, a saxophonist, then played with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and switched to pop, playing with Sting and recording the saxophone part for the fight against the power of Public Enemy. The two brothers made their debut in one of the great mid-century groups, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Two others of Ellis’ six sons also became jazz performers: Jason, a drummer, and Delfeayo, a trombonist.
Branford said in a statement, “My father was a giant musician and teacher, but an even bigger father. He put everything he had to help us make the most of what we could be. My friend and Harvard law professor David Wilkins has just sent me the following: “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 refused this possibility, then watch they redefine what excellence means forever. “