Ellis Marsalis (1934-2020)

I just learned of the passing of Ellis Marsalis, Jr., the great pianist and teacher. There will be many greater eulogies and histories across the internet, so I just want to tell one story. I got my MM from the University if New Orleans when Ellis taught there. He conducted the Concert Jazz Orchestra and was on my graduate committee. The jazz orchestra took a trip to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil right as I was graduating, and I was the de facto road manager for the band as part of my assistantship. There are many great stories from that trip, but my favorite has to do with a music school that was up the hill in the favela. The father of an exchange student at UNO ran the school and Ellis and the band visited one afternoon. When Ellis asked the folks in the neighborhood if they were coming to our concert on Friday night, people laughed. We did not know that a ticket to our concert downtown in the theater was more than one month’s salary for most of the people in this neighborhood. When Ellis heard this he immediately said, “oh, well then we will come play a concert here Saturday afternoon.” We did, and the joy of Brazilian children dancing to Thad Jones’s “Groove Merchant” is forever burned into my memory. That is the great man I remember. RIP Mr. Marsalis.

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