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.
I graduated from NOCCA in 1979 in the visual arts program, taught by Frank & Jean Gross. I have the fondest memories of Ellis and his students, as they practiced and jammed above my head, in the old building in the Garden District. His love of jazz, his focus on developing potential and talent was wonderful. My NOCCA classroom experiences had the most amazing soundtrack. I will never forget it. He will be missed. Jeanne (Long) Brooks. Ocean Park, WA.
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Some of the greatest memories of my life. Constantly having Mr Moon come to us @ 7pm telling us
“guys, you’ve got to GO HOME, I need to lock up”.
All these wonderful students of my time in NOCCA. Me, Harry Connick Jr, Reginald Veal, Tyrone Williams, Noel Kendrick, Jamil Sharif, Kevin Whavers, Kelvin Harrison, Rina Sun, Kateri Kelly, & Delfeayo Marsalis. Dr Tews, Ms Alfaro, Dr Braud, and NOCCA’s greatest asset. Mr Marsalis. When I landed at Berklee College of Music, I was completely humbled by how fortunate I was to have been a student of Mr Marsalis. Here I was in Berklee, and the minute I mentioned his name, I would receive instant credibility, BEFORE anyone had even heard me play. In fact, while I was there, I was frequently referred to as “the guy from New Orleans who studied with Ellis Marsalis”. Talk about privilege. !!!!
Both Mr & Mrs Marsalis were such giving people, and I will treasure their names, and their sons, for all of my life.
Thank u Ms Shirley !!!!
Glenn S. Gabler