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Ellis Marsalis

Photo of Ellis Marsalis

Ellis Marsalis is regarded by many as the premier modern jazz pianist in New Orleans. Born on November 14, 1934, he began formal music studies at the Xavier University junior school of music at age eleven. After high school Marsalis enrolled in Dillard University (New Orleans) as a clarinet major. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education in 1955. Ellis and wife Delores Ferdinand have 6 sons: Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis III , Delfeayo Marsalis, Mboya Kinyatta Marsalis, and Jason Marsalis. Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason are also jazz musicians. Ellis is a poet, photographer, & network engineer based in Baltimore. Mboya has autism. Ellis started out as a tenor saxophonist, switching to piano while in high school. From his first professional performance with “The Groovy Boys” over fifty years ago, Ellis Marsalis has been a major influence in jazz. At that time, Marsalis was one of the few New Orleans musicians who did not specialize in Dixieland or rhythm and blues. He played with fellow modernists including Cannonball Adderley, Nat Adderley, and Al Hirt, becoming one of the most respected pianists in jazz. Though he has recorded almost twenty of his own albums, and was featured on many discs with such jazz greats as David “Fathead” Newman, Eddie Harris, Marcus Roberts, and Courtney Pine, he shunned the spotlight to focus on teaching. Marsalis’ didactic approach, combined with an interest in philosophy, encourages his students to make discoveries in music on their own, through experiment and very careful listening. As a leading educator at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana, Ellis has influenced the careers of countless musicians, including Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr.,Nicholas Payton; as well as his four musician sons: Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason. In May, 2007, Marsalis received an honorary doctorate from Tulane University for his contributions to jazz and musical education. The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music at Musicians’ Village in New Orleans is named in honor of Ellis Marsalis. Click here to visit his website

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