The death this week of Ellis Marsalis recalls dozens of enounters with him when he was one of New Orleans’ premier jazz musicians. Long before Ellis became famous as the father of Wynton, Branford, Jason and Delfeo, he established himself as a nonpareil pianist and educator. I remember hearing the the young Marsalis when he was a key member of alto saxophonist Al Belletto’s sextet in the 1960s and being spellbound by the intricacies he and Belletto wove in their performances together. Marsalis was a powerful influence on the playing and career paths of some of the city’s most talented young jazz artists. He was a mentor not only to his sons, but also to Harry Connick, Jr., Johnny Vidacovich, Richard Payne and many other players in the upper levels of New Orleans jazz talent. In this video from the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Marsalis and his quartet playing his composition “Twelve’s It.” The members of the group are identified onscreen as the video begins.
Ellis Marsalis, RIP