By Alex Fox, smithsonianmag.com | Trumpeter Wallace Roney died Tuesday in New Jersey, pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis Jr. died Wednesday in New Orleans, and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli died on Wednesday in New Jersey. They were 59, 85 and 94, respectively.
Marsalis was a towering figure of modern jazz. Through his teaching, he became the patriarch of a musical family that extended well beyond the four sons who followed in his footsteps, report Janet McConnaughey and Rebecca Santan for the Associated Press.
“Ellis Marsalis was a legend,” wrote Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans, where the musician spent most of his life, on Twitter Wednesday night. “He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz.”
The Marsalis family patriarch held teaching positions at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of New Orleans. He had retired just this year from a three-decade stint playing weekly gigs at a small New Orleans club called the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro.
“With the passing of Marsalis, we have lost not only a gifted pianist, but also a person committed to the importance of music education and jazz history,” says Theo Gonzalves, curator of cultural and community life at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
Marsalis was known for his talents on the piano—he played alongside such greats as Cannonball Adderley and recorded more than 15 albums—but he was proudest of his legacy as a mentor and educator who carefully shepherded the next generation of musicians, including four of his six sons, reports Andrew Limbong for NPR.
“He was like the coach of jazz. He put on the sweatshirt, blew the whistle and made these guys work,” Nick Spitzer, host of public radio’s “American Routes” and a Tulane University anthropology professor, tells the AP.
Marsalis’ son Wynton is a trumpeter, as well as the artistic director of jazz at New York’s Lincoln Center. Branford took up the saxophone, leading “The Tonight Show” band and touring with Sting. Delfeayo, a trombonist, is a prominent producer and performer. Jason is a drummer of note with his band and as an accompanist. Marsalis’ two other sons—Ellis III, a poet-photographer, and Mboya—did not pursue music.
“My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father. He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be,” says Branford in a statement.
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In 2010, musician Anthony Brown and Ken Kimery, program director of Smithsonian Jazz, interviewed Marsalis for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program. Recounting the conversation now, Kimery says the pianist “afforded us great insight into his family history, life in New Orleans,” favorite musicians and education, among other topics. The full transcript of the interview is available here:
Photo: Ellis Marsalis, Jr. (from the Kurland Agency website)
[Thanks to COMBO member Ken Finton for contributing this article.
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths…
The deaths that are listed from Wikipedia are those of musicians or who have ties to the music business from all over the world. These are our brothers and sisters. It is so sad to see the listing of just “famous people” who have died from COVID-19, not only musicians but other artists, sports figures, politicians, actors, jurists and so many more. Please stay home – keep YOUR names and those of your loved ones from being added to this list.
9: Dmitri Smirnov, 71, Russian-born British composer.
8: Andrzej Adamiak, 60, Polish bass guitarist, singer and songwriter; Glenn Fredly, 44, Indonesian singer, meningitis; Chynna Rogers, 25, American rap artist.
7: Oleksandr Datsyuk, 56, Ukrainian singer and guitarist, stabbed; Hudeydi, 91, Somali oud player, COVID-19; John Prine, 73, American singer-songwriter (“Sam Stone”, “Angel from Montgomery”), Grammy winner (1992, 2006), COVID-19; Hal Willner, 64, American music producer (Saturday Night Live, Stay Awake), COVID-19.
6: M. K. Arjunan, 84, Indian composer; Black the Ripper, 32, British grime MC, rapper and cannabis activist; Onaje Allan Gumbs, 70, American pianist.
5: DJ Miller, 29, Rwandan DJ and musician, stroke.
4: Timothy Brown, 82, American singer, actor (M*A*S*H), and football player (Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Colts); Silvano Carroli, 81, Italian baritone; Patrick Gibson, 64, French drummer and singer (Gibson Brothers), COVID-19; Alex Harvey, 79, American singer, songwriter and actor (Gettysburg, Fire Down Below, The Rainmaker); Michel Wiblé, 97, Swiss composer and teacher.
3: Helin Bölek, 28, Turkish singer (Grup Yorum), suicide by fasting; Vaughan Mason, 69, American music producer (Raze, Vaughan Mason & Crew) and songwriter (“Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll”).
2: Nirmal Singh Khalsa, 67, Indian singer and priest (Darbar Sahib), COVID-19; Guus Smeets, 71, Dutch singer, COVID-19; Seppo Vesterinen, 71, Finnish music manager and producer.
1: Cristina, 61, American singer, COVID-19; Ellis Marsalis Jr., 85, American jazz pianist, COVID-19; Bucky Pizzarelli, 94, American jazz guitarist, COVID-19; Dieter Reith, 82, German pianist and organist; Harold Rubin, 87, South African-born Israeli jazz clarinettist; Adam Schlesinger, 52, American musician (Fountains of Wayne, Ivy) and songwriter (“That Thing You Do”), Emmy winner (2012, 2013, 2019), COVID-19.