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Ellis Marsalis, Jr. is a jazz pianist and American music educator, father of Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis and son of musician Ellis Marsalis, Sr ..
Ellis Marsalis was born on November 14, 1934 in the district of Gert Town (New Orleans), a place where music, as his colleagues Roger Dickerson and Harold Battiste remember “was everywhere.” During the decade of the 30, the city was strongly segregated, but jazz united people of different social, cultural and even racial extraction.
He began his musical studies at the Xavier University Junior School of Music at the age of eleven. After passing through high school, he entered Dillard University in New Orleans to complete his clarinet studies. During the 1940s, the city became the world capital of the Dixieland, but Ellis showed no interest in that music, and concentrated its efforts on the study of the innovations that bebop musicians such as Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon were doing. At that time, in 1955, he graduated in music education, and Marsalis spent the following year helping his father in the family business.
In 1957, Marsalis enrolled in the army and perfected his skills as a pianist performing on radio and television. After his time in the marines he returns to New Orleans to marry Dolores Ferdinand, who gives him six children: Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, Miboya and Jason.
In 1964, he moved with his family to Breux Bridge, a small town in Louisiana whose school band he takes over. Back in New Orleans, he started again with his activities as a freelance musician, as well as forming a band with drummer Ed Blackwell, clarinetist Alvin Batiste, and saxophonist Harold Battiste. The band attracts the attention of Ornette Coleman who takes the musicians to California, where they stay for a short period of time to return to New Orleans.
Between 1966 and 1974, Marsalis combined his activity as an assistant professor at Xavier University with performances in local clubs. That last year the musician decides to resume his studies and returns to the Loyola University of New Orleans, while being hired by the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where he would spend the next nine years as a professor of music and jazz studies and where I would take care of such notable students as Nicholas Payton or Harry Connick, Jr., as well as their own children.
In 1986, he accepted a position at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, where he would spend two years before returning to New Orleans to take up the chair of jazz studies at the University of New Orleans. In 2001 he officially resigned his chair, but since then he continues to act periodically in different locations in his hometown.
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