In fifty years the New Orleans JazzFest has evolved from a three-day pure jazz event into a musical spectacular that also encompasses rock, folk, zydeco, gospel, and genres that may not yet have names. As a weeklong citywide gala, it is second only to Mardi Gras. Ellis Marsalis was there from the festival’s birth in 1968 and has matured into one of the city’s celebrated patriarchs—in more than one sense. He is the father of Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason, themselves celebrated musicians. Over the years Ellis has been featured on the festival, playing at the beginning for hundreds of listeners in the old Civic Auditorium and in recent years for thousands at the Fair Grounds.
During the 2014 JazzFest Marsalis pere had fun with “Sweet Georgia Brown.” He, son Jason on drums and Jason Stewart on bass played in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood at the record store called the Louisiana Music Factory. At an electric piano rather than his customary nine-foot concert grand, Mr. Marsalis worked his pointillist way into the piece to the amusement of his sidemen.
Ellis Marsalis will turn 82 in December, we hope with that swing and humor intact.