Saxophonist Branford Marsalis had loving words to describe his relationship with his father, New Orleans jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis Jr, who died from complications from coronavirus on April 1, according to his son. Marsalis Jr., 85, was admitted to the hospital on Saturday (March 28).
“My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father,” Marsalis said. “He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be.”
The senior Marsalis first studied clarinet before switching to piano, playing alongside artists such as Ornette Coleman and Cannonball Adderley. He was renowned as an educator, schooling generations of New Orleans musicians, include Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison and Nicholas Payton. But his most renowned students were his six sons — Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, Mboya Kenyatta and Jason.
Marsalis ended his statement with a text he had received from Harvard Law professor David Wilkins, following his father’s death: “We can all marvel at the sheer audacity of a man who believed he could teach his black boys to be excellent in a world that denied that very possibility, and then watch them go on to redefine what excellence means for all time.”