Ellis Marsalis made a lifelong commitment to NOCCA. He started the school’s Jazz program at a time when that sort of thing was very unusual. He trained some of the world’s best musicians, including his own children. And long after he’d moved on to other projects, he came back to campus time and again to offer master classes for students.
He died this week at the age of 85.
Mr. Marsalis’ dedication to music, to the arts in general, and to teaching the next generation of artists were unquestionable and unwavering. Sally Perry, The NOCCA Institute’s executive director, said:
“For over four decades, Ellis and his wife Dolores generously gave of their time and talents to help us support NOCCA’s talented young artists. One of the last times I spoke with Ellis was after his performance at a benefit concert at NOCCA. I thanked him for his music, and he said ‘It’s time to pass the baton to the next generation.’ He has done so, and we are all richer for it.
NOCCA’s president and CEO, Kyle Wedberg, had this to say about Ellis Marsalis’ effect on the school:
When NOCCA’s founder, Ms. Shirley Trusty Corey went to hire Mr. Marsalis to head the Jazz Department at NOCCA she was told no because he didn’t have a teaching certificate. Now, not many people have found success in this lifetime saying no to either Ms. Shirley or Mr. Ellis. So they simply worked with the state to get an Ancillary Certification for Teaching in the Arts established so Mr. Ellis could teach at NOCCA. This is the standard still used by most arts faculty, not just at NOCCA, but across the entire State of Louisiana. In other words, the formal teaching of the arts over the last century in Louisiana K-12 education can draw a line that starts at Ellis Marsalis.
Perhaps no one was more articulate about NOCCA and what it means to young artists than Mr. Marsalis himself. In May of 2019, he said this to students in the Classical and Vocal departments:
The world does not need one more trombone, trumpet, vocalist, pianist. That’s not really important. It is important that you take away with you that which you have learned here, the discipline you have developed and the process of learning. Because no one can take that away, and regardless of what you do, you have made lifelong friends and you will keep that.
Funeral arrangements for Mr. Marsalis are pending. The Times-Picayune‘s announcement of his passing can be found here.