The holiday season swings to the sounds of jazz with the Ellis Marsalis Quartet featuring the renowned pianist and his band performing A Very New Orleans Christmas at 8 p.m., Friday, December 7, 2012, at Fairfield University’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. The quartet consists of Derek Douget on saxophone, Jason Marsalis on drums, and Jason Stewart on bass, and the program includes material from Ellis Marsalis’ latest album “A New Orleans Christmas Carol,” featuring jazz-tinged seasonal favorites such as “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night,” “What Child Is This,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The program is made possible in part by the generous support of Harry's Wine & Liquor Market. Tickets are $45, $35, and $25.
Ellis Marsalis is regarded by many as the premier modern jazz pianist in New Orleans and is known for his career as a performer and educator. Four of his sons, Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason, have gone on to successful jazz and classical-jazz careers. National Public Radio notes: “Ellis Marsalis has become one of the most renowned music educators in the U.S., imparting his extensive knowledge of jazz to students like pianist and vocalist Harry Connick, Jr., trumpeter Terence Blanchard, and of course, his four sons.” Ellis Marsalis himself was born on November 14, 1934, and his formal music studies began at age eleven at the Xavier University junior school of music. After high school, he enrolled in Dillard University (New Orleans, LA) as a clarinet major. He graduated in 1955 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education then joined the U.S. Marine Corps. While stationed in southern California he honed his pianist skills as a member of the Corps Four, a Marines jazz quartet that performed on television ("Dress Blues," named for the formal Marine Corps uniform and broadcast on CBS) and radio shows (“Leatherneck Songbook”). Both shows were used to boost recruiting efforts. After completing his Marine Corps duty, Marsalis returned to New Orleans and married Dolores Ferdinand, a New Orleanian, who bore him six sons; Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, Mboya and Jason.
In 1964 Marsalis, his wife Dolores and, at the time, four sons, moved to the small rural town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, where he spent two years as a school band and choral director at Carver high school. Returning to New Orleans in 1966, he began freelancing on the local music scene. Between 1966 and 1974 Marsalis would perform at the Playboy Club (New Orleans), Al Hirt nightclub, Lu and Charlie’s nightclub, Storyville nightclub Crazy Shirley’s and returned to the teaching profession, in 1967, as an adjunct professor of African American Music at Xavier University (New Orleans, LA). As the family continued to grow, Marsalis continued his educational pursuits, attending Loyola University’s (New Orleans, LA) Masters Degree program in 1974. He would also successfully interview for a teaching position at a new Magnet high school for the arts, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), and be hired as an instructor for the Fall semester (1974). Marsalis would spend the next twelve years at NOCCA as an instrumental music teacher with a Jazz studies emphasis.
In 1986, Marsalis accepted a teaching position at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, Virginia), serving as coordinator of Jazz Studies two of his three years there. In 1989, he returned to New Orleans to become the first Director of the Coca Cola endowed Chair of Jazz Studies at the University of New Orleans. During his tenure at UNO he helped fellow colleague Charles Blancq develop a campus performance center called the Sand Bar. Marsalis would also develop a Jazz Orchestra, which he took, on the eve of his retirement, on a tour of Brazil. On August 10, 2001, Marsalis officially retired from the University of New Orleans after twelve years of dedicated service. His retirement was celebrated by a very rare performance of Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis at the UNO arena.
Ellis Marsalis is the recipient of Honorary Doctorate degrees from his alma mater Dillard University, New Orleans, LA (1989); Ball State University, Muncie, IN (1997); Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA (2010); Tulane University, New Orleans, LA; and The Juilliard School, New York, NY. In 2011, Marsalis and his family were awarded the highest honor in Jazz, NEA Jazz Masters, the first group award ever distributed by the National Endowment for the Arts. Marsalis has appeared on NBC's Today show with host Bryant Gumbel; the Tonight show with both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno; the Arsenio Hall show with pianist Marcus Roberts; the Charlie Rose show; Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood; ABC's Good Morning America with Spencer Christian, as well as several local and regional television shows. In 1984 Marsalis and New Orleans singer/actress Joanne "Lady BJ" Creighton shared honors at the Ace Awards ceremony for the best single music program on cable television.
He continues to be active as a performing pianist leading, and occasionally touring, his own quartet. He has several recordings on the CBS-SONY label and currently releases recordings on his own recording label, ELM RECORDS, developed with his wife Dolores and son Jason.
Concert audiences are invited to come early to the Quick Center performance to enjoy food and beverages provided by Brennan’s Shebeen, Fairfield County’s premier authentic Irish Pub, starting at 7 p.m.
Tickets are available through the Quick Center Box Office: (203) 254-4010, or toll-free 1-877-ARTS-396. (1-877-278-7396). Tickets can also be purchased online at www.quickcenter.com.