Written by Patrick Jarenwattananon from WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center
Ellis Marsalis is a father figure of modern jazz — in quite a few ways. As a pianist, he was among the first generation of musicians to bring bebop to New Orleans, and even worked with Ornette Coleman before the saxophonist recorded his landmarks of free jazz. As an educator, many great musicians came through Marsalis’ tutelage, whether in New Orleans’ arts high school or at various university programs. And of course, he is also the actual father of several exceptional musicians named Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis.
He turned 80 in November, and to celebrate, Jazz at Lincoln Center — where his son Wynton is managing and artistic director — hosted him and his band. Jazz Night In America fetes Ellis Marsalis with a special birthday performance from Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.