We don’t teach jazz, we teach students.

Ellis Marsalis Jr.

As we touched upon last week with our Mardi Gras celebration, New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz and is still a home to this art form. So many musicians have been born there, and/or got their start there, such as Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, to name a few, and this week, we’re going to learn about some other New Orleans’ musicians that are key figures in the jazz world.

Over the years, there have been musical families, such as the Joneses (Hank, Thad, and Elvin) and the Adderleys (Nat and Cannonball), but there is only one FIRST Family of Jazz, and that is the Marsalis Family – a family that has made a profound impact on jazz throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Ellis Marsalis Jr. (1934 – 2020)

The patriarch of the Marsalis family was Ellis Marsalis Jr., an influential figure the jazz world sadly lost just last April. Born in New Orleans, he played music in his youth, starting with tenor saxophone but moving to piano while in high school and going on to study classical piano at Dillard University.

He worked with a variety of musicians in the 1950’s & 60’s, including the Adderley brothers, for whom he played trumpet. But his biggest impact on jazz was in his role as educator and mentor at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, an institution established in 1973 as a pre-professional arts training center. There, he was a teacher to his sons, Harry Connick Jr., Terrence Blanchard, and Nicholas Payton, as well as many other talented musicians.

Marsalis and his wife Delores had six sons, four of whom followed in their father’s musical footsteps, all playing different instruments (at his request). In 2011, they were all named Jazz Masters by the National Endowment of the Arts.

Here are all five of them playing a traditional Second Line: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTlBaR-hDuA

And from a 2004 episode of CBS Sunday Morning, here’s a brief interview with Ellis about his family, New Orleans, and music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3qSZMtU3vE

Branford Marsalis (1960 – )

The eldest of the Marsalis sons is Branford, who plays the saxophone (soprano, alto, and tenor). In the early 80’s, he played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and in the late 80’s, he started to lead his own groups, across various music genres. One project of his was the group Buckshot LeFonque, so named for a pseudonym of Cannonball Adderley, which mixed jazz with rock, funk, and hip-hop. Other artists he’s worked with include Sting and the Grateful Dead. He’s recorded soundtracks, he was the musical director for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and he has his own record label.

After Hurricane Katrina, he partnered with Harry Connick Jr. and Habitat for Humanity on a project to help restore NOLA’s musical heritage: Musician’s Village, which is village for musicians who lost their homes during the hurricane.

Here is Branford on saxophone for Harry Connick Jr.’s version of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pm24D7lyMT8

From the Buckshot LeFonque album Music Evolution, here is the title track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfo6S79S8s4

Wynton Marsalis (1961 – )

The second oldest, Wynton, is the most well-known of the Marsalis sons, and one of the most famous jazz artists of the last 30 years. He is a trumpeter who has studied classical and jazz techniques, and is the first and only artist to win both a classical and a jazz Grammy in the same year (1983).

During his time at Juilliard (after studying with his father at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts), he was recognized as a gifted musician, making waves across the industry. At age 19, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, spent some time touring with Herbie Hancock, and then returned to the Messengers. He also led a quintet with his brother Branford.

In 1987, he co-founded the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, where he is the managing and artistic director today. To add to his amazing credentials, he is a composer, he worked with Ken Burns on his Jazz PBS miniseries, he’s a spokesman for music education, he’s written six books, AND he’s received a Pulitzer Prize for his work Blood on the Fields.

From the days when they were BOTH playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, here are Branford and Wynton playing “Fuller Love” and “Ms. BC”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5RDNt52Dz8

Delfeayo Marsalis (1965 – )

The trombonist of the bunch is Delfeayo. He also is a record producer, and has produced albums for his brothers, Harry Connick Jr., Marcus Roberts, and others. He’s a successful composer and bandleader. He started the Uptown Jazz Orchestra in 2016, and the group regularly plays in New Orleans. They have also recorded a number of politically charged works.

Recorded “at home” during the pandemic, here is Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown jazz Orchestra playing “Jazz Party”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8VTNzzXB2k

Jason Marsalis

The youngest Marsalis son is Jason, the drummer. He attracted attention at age 13 while playing and recording with Delfeayo’s band! His musical tastes also go beyond only jazz, and his interest in Latin music led him to become part of Los Hombres Calientes in the late 1990’s. In addition to drums, he also plays the vibraphone.

Here are Ellis and Jason playing “Orchid Blue” from their album For All We Know, which was Ellis’ last recording before his death: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2eZOU1M6wk

Don’t forget while you may be cooped up at home, you can still enjoy live(stream) jazz!

Look for some familiar faces in upcoming Bop Stop events!

  • Saturday, March 6th @ 7 p.m., Rusty Burge and the CJO Trio:
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  • Monday, March 8th @ 6:30, the CSU Jazz Showcase:
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  • Friday, March 12th @ 8 p.m., the Pulse Quartet: Learn More
  • Thursday, March 25th @ 7 p.m., Brown/Bruce/Bowens Trio: Learn More
  • Friday, March 26th, the CJO Little Big Band, details coming soon!
  • Saturday, March 27th @ 8 p.m., Jackie Warren’s Birthday Bash!: Learn More

Let us know what your favorites are and what you’d like to see next!