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Ellis Marsalis Jr dead – Jazz ‘legend’, 85, dies from pneumonia after contracting coronavirus in New Orleans

Jazz legend Ellis Marsalis Jr. has died at the age of 85 after battling pneumonia brought by the new coronavirus.

The pianist was the patriarch of a New Orleans musical family and a celebrated musician.

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Ellis Marsalis III confirmed that his father's death was brought about by the coronavirus that is causing the global pandemic.

His death on Wednesday came hours after Adam Schlesinger, best known for his work with rock band Fountains Of Wayne, died after contracting coronavirus.

Four of Marsalis Jr sons followed in footsteps to become musicians. Wynton is one of the most prominent jazz figures in the US as artistic director of jazz at New York's Lincoln Center.

Branford is a saxophonist who has worked with the likes of Sting.

Jason is a drummer who has made a name for himself with his own band, while Delfeayo, is trombonist who is prominent record producer and performer.

Ellis III is a photographer-poet in Baltimore.

He said: "Pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise. But it was pneumonia brought on by Covid-19.

"I was with him in the hospital for six or seven hours yesterday. Branford was with him Monday, I was with him yesterday and Jason was with him today.

"He passed right after Jason departed."

Famous fans paid tribute online.

Singer John Legend tweeted: "Sending love to the Marsalis family. Condolences to them and all of those who loved Ellis Marsalis."

The Wire star Wendell Pierce, who is from New Orleans, described Marsalis Jr as an "icon of our culture".

He said: "With the deepest and most profound sadness, I grieve the passing of a true jazz master, icon of our culture, historic in the story of New Orleans, and profound in his influence in the evolution of music along with many lives.

"Father. Mentor. Teacher. Genius. RIP Ellis Marsalis."

Apple CEO Tim Cook shared a picture of himself with Marsalis Jr.

He said: "Ellis Marsalis was a true legend. In his music, his passion for New Orleans and his steadfast dedication to education, he showed us all the power of community.

"He'll be missed dearly. My thoughts are with his sons who carry on his legacy."

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Marsalis Jr was a "legend" and the "prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz".

She added: "The love and the prayers of all of our people go out to his family, and to all of those whose lives he touched."

Ellis Jr opted to stay in New Orleans for most of his career, but he established newfound fame when his sons brought him into the spotlight.

It came with new recording contracts and headline performances on tours and TV.

Nick Spitzer, host of public radio's American Routes, said: "He was like the coach of jazz.

"He put on the sweatshirt, blew the whistle and made these guys work."

He added: "His great love was jazz a la bebop - he was a lover of Thelonious Monk and the idea that bebop was a music of freedom.

"But when he had to feed his family he played R 'n' B and soul and rock and roll on Bourbon Street,' said Spitzer."

Marsalis was born in New Orleans, son of the operator of a hotel where he met touring musicians who could not stay at the segregated downtown hotels.

He played saxophone in high school but was also playing piano by the time he went to Dillard University.

The musician then joined the US Marine Corps and was assigned to accompany soloists on the service's weekly TV programs on CBS in New York

Ellis Jr credited this time as allowing him to learned all kinds of different music styles.


Upon returning home, he worked at the Playboy Club and ventured into running his own club, which quickly went bust.

He then was hired by trumpeter Al Hirt to be part of his band, which played headline shows on The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show.

It was around this time that he got into education, and started teaching improvisation at Xavier University in New Orleans.

Here he influenced a whole generation of young jazz musicians until his retirement in 2001.

He continued to perform at jazz clubs in New Orleans, and founded his own record company, ELM.

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