NEW ORLEANS – When it comes to New Orleans musical families, the Marsalis family stands out among the rest for producing one nationally recognized jazz master after another.
In celebration of jazz heritage, News with a Twist will share a story about one of New Orleans’ musical families every Monday.
This week, we are looking at the Marsalis family, who are often called the first family of jazz.
We sat down with patriarch Ellis Marsalis and talked a little bit about music – and lot about family.
The Marsalis dynasty began in the Gert Town neighborhood, where Ellis Marsalis spent the first 10 years of his life.
Right down the street, other musical families bloomed, from the French family to the family of the late great Allen Toussaint.
Ellis would go on to marry his wife Dolores and have six sons: Branford, Wynton, Ellis the 3rd, Delfeayo, Mboya Kinyatta and Jason.
Ellis hosted plenty of jam sessions with likes of Alvin Batiste, and eventually some of his sons took to music.
“I wasn’t in favor of all of them playing the same instrument,” he said. “That didn’t make sense to me.”
The boys were active in Boy Scouts and were altar servers at their church, but Wynton Marsalis thought he was going to end up going in a different direction.
“He had a fascination with playing basketball, but I don’t think it took him too long to find out that wasn’t his game,” Ellis said of Wynton.
As Wynton became a “young lion” on the jazz music scene and his brothers followed suit, the Marsalis family brought with them their love of New Orleans – and especially their mother’s gumbo.
The music is undeniably great – but that’s not the legacy Ellis is most proud of.
Ellis said his proudest achievement is his family, “because we have a whole bunch of grandchildren, about 15 of them.”
Stay tuned next Monday when we’ll share with you New Orleans’ largest musical family – the Batiste family.