Jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis is more than an iconic performer and critically lauded composer; he's a New Orleans jazz father figure. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the shape of contemporary jazz should immediately recognize his as the surname common to trumpeter Wynton, saxophonist Branford, drummer Jason, and trombonist Delfeayo. Still, most casual jazz fans don't know the significant formative role the jazz patriarch played in the greater history of his hometown's music scene.
In the mid-Sixties, when the rest of NoLa was busy rehashing R&B standards and recording Dixieland for future Louisiana tourism campaigns, Ellis Marsalis was smitten by the modern sounds of bebop. Unfortunately for him and his small band of like-minded musicians, New Orleans wasn't very receptive. Marsalis kept playing the music he loved, though, sitting in with modern greats such as Cannonball Adderley and Ornette Coleman.
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But however much Marsalis loved playing bop, his true passion was teaching. Marsalis's hands-off, almost socratic approach to teaching jazz music formed the core of the music program at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, as well as several other institutions. Harry Connick Jr. and Terrence Blanchard are among the many skilled musicians who gained from Marsalis's tutelage.