Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr or Buddhist impermanence harmonized with jazz

- through Sophie Solere

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Figure of New Orleans jazz, talented pianist and renowned pedagogue, Ellis Louis Marsalis Jr created one of the most important musical dynasties: father of four famous musicians, including trumpeter Wynton and saxophonist Brandon, he was also the beacon of the new generation of "Big Easy" jazzmen. Victim of the coronavirus on April 1, at the age of 85, the patriarch leaves a major work marked by the idea that jazz is music that is constantly reinventing itself.

“Ellis Marsalis, 1934 – 2020. He died as he lived: accepting reality”.
It is with these few words that the legendary trumpet player Wynton Marsalis paid tribute to his father, Ellis Louis, who died of the consequences of the coronavirus on April 1, 2020. A bad joke for the world of jazz. Among the chorus of praise, Wynton's epitaph will not fail to surprise as it resonates with Buddhist thought, the notion of emptiness, the ultimate nature of everything, impertinent and interdependent, devoid of all our illusions. It is an understatement to say that the man who was called a "Jazz messenger" for his taste for transmission - in addition to his children Wynton, Brandon, Delfeayo and Jason, Ellis Marsalis was the teacher of a few stars of the blue note, including Harry Connick Jr., Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Marlon Jordan, etc. -is mistrustful of hymns, whatever they are.

Born in November 1934 at the New Orleans, the young Ellis Jr hardly enjoys catechism. In the Ellis family, conscience is above all social. Her father, Ellis Sr, is an entrepreneur and civil rights activist. Owner of a gas station and motel listed in Green Book, the guide listing the establishments open to African-Americans in segregationist lands, Ellis Sr welcomes some big names in jazz, such as Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Etta James and Dinah Washington, but also political leaders, including Thurgood Marshall, the first Afro judge American to have served on the Supreme Court of the United States, and Martin Luther King! The first black to sit on the New York City Council, as a representative of Harlem, then a member of the House of Representatives, the influential Adam Clayton Powell Jr will also stay at the Marsalis motel. Thus building a bridge with the Harlem Renaissance, a famous movement for the renewal of Afro-American culture that appeared in the interwar period.

“Ellis Marsalis, 1934 – 2020. He died as he lived: accepting reality”.

Supported by his parents, Ellis Jr immersed himself in Music courses, learned the clarinet and the saxophone, before devoting himself definitively to the piano to accompany a few local musicians, including the saxophonist Nat Perrilliat. At the end of the 50s, he made a detour to Los Angeles with Ed Blackwell and Ornette Coleman, then returned to NOLA, where, mobilized, he joined a military orchestra. At the beginning of the sweet sixties, the discreet Ellis Marsalis made a name for himself; he performed with Nat and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Marcus Roberts or even Courtney Pine, cut a few records (about fifteen in total, including ten under his name), but gradually turned to teaching, particularly within the prestigious New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. From then on, he never ceased to decipher the scope of this jazz which oozes from the work of African-Americans and their fevers of life. His playing combines the fast tempos and harmonic digressions of bop, syncopations and the festive groove of New Orleans, all tinged with the laments of the blues. Expression of a musical liberation, breaking both musical and social codes, for apocryphal scores freeing themselves from the discipline of these dyed-in-the-wool big bands.

Distinguished many times – he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2008-, the “Jazz messenger” was not a man to give in to the sirens of ego. He himself struggled to explain his immense legacy: “I don't know by what divine or human power it happened to me to have the offspring which is mine. Why was I elected for this? Do you know how many musical families there are in New Orleans? A package ! And it fell on me! God couldn't choose me: I didn't even go to church! “, he was surprised in an interview with the magazine Jazz-Hot in 2003. A “giant in music and teaching, but an even greater father,” summed up his son Brandford in a final tribute.

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Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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