Ellis Marsalis Quartet - "An Open Letter to Thelonious"

The brand new release from The Ellis Marsalis Quartet titled “an open letter to Thelonious" (ELM Records) is a brilliant tribute to one of the greatest pianist/composers of our time, Thelonious Sphere Monk. Ellis Marsalis is joined here by his quartet, which is made up of Jason Marsalis on Drums, Derek Douget on Saxophones, and Jason Stewart on Bass. From “Crepuscule with Nellie" through “Round Midnight" with an encore of “Evidence" - “an open letter to Thelonious" is one of Ellis Marsalis' finest works to date.

Ellis Marsalis is regarded by many as the premier modern jazz pianist in New Orleans. Born on November 14, 1934, he began formal music studies at Xavier University junior school of music at age eleven. After high school, Marsalis enrolled in Dillard University (New Orleans) as a clarinet major. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education in 1955. Marsalis spent the next year working as an assistant manager in his fathers' motel business. The following year Marsalis then joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and while stationed in southern California began honing his skills as a pianist on a television show entitled “Dress Blues" and a radio show “Leatherneck Songbook". After completing a stint in the Marine Corps, Marsalis returned to New Orleans and married Dolores Ferdinand, also from New Orleans, who bore him six sons; Branford, Wynton, Ellis III, Delfeayo, Miboya and Jason.

In 1964 Marsalis moved his wife and family to the small rural Louisiana town of Breux Bridge where he became a school band and choral director at Carver high school for two years. Returning to New Orleans he began to freelance once again on the local music scene. He set his sights on bebop and formed a small combo with drummer Ed Blackwell & clarinetist Alvin Batiste. With its modern, almost avant-garde style, the group found little work in New Orleans, but it did get the attention of legendary alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Originally from Texas and steeped in that state's R&B style, Coleman found himself at odds with most of New Orleans' jazz scene. He quickly left The Big Easy for California. Once he arrived, he asked Ellis and the rest of the group to follow.

After the group arrived in California, they quickly realized that it was not exactly the Promised Land they had hoped to find. Even though their time out West was short-lived, they did manage to make their first recording in 1956 as The American Jazz Quintet. Ellis soon returned to New Orleans and continued playing modern bebop, despite the limited support from the city. Things brightened up in 1963, when famed cornet player Nat Adderley and his brother, alto saxophonist and bandleader Cannonball came to New Orleans. The brothers recorded with Ellis and several other New Orleans musicians on Nat's album “In the Bag." The album dubbed Ellis, drummer James Black, and tenor saxophonist Nat Perrilliat as the “Down Home New Stars."

Between 1966 and 1974 Marsalis would perform at the Playboy Club (New Orleans), in the Al Hirt nightclub, Lu and Charles nightclub and enter the teaching profession again as an adjunct professor at Xavier University (New Orleans). While the family continued to grow Marsalis, decided to return to school in the early summer session of 1974 working towards a Masters Degree at Loyola University (New Orleans). Marsalis would also interview for a teaching position at a new Magnet school for the arts. His interview was successful, and he was hired in the Fall semester at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts(1974) high school. He would spend the next twelve years at NOCCA as an instrumental music teacher with a Jazz studies emphasis. Many leading jazz artists today -- alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and pianist Harry Connick, Jr. -- studied at the CCA with Ellis. It should come to no surprise that his sons Wynton Jason, Delfeayo, and Branford also attended the Center.

In 1986, Marsalis accepted the position of Commonwealth Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. He would spend two of the three years as coordinator of Jazz Studies before returning to New Orleans and the University of New Orleans to become the first occupant of the Coca-Cola endowed chair of Jazz Studies as the director.

Marsalis has been the recipient of Honorary Doctorate degrees from his alma mater Dillard University, (1989) and Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana (1997). On August 10, 2001 Marsalis officially retired from the University of New Orleans after twelve years as the first occupant of the Coca-Cola Jazz Chair and the Director of the Jazz Studies Division. Marsalis has acquired an impressive resume of recordings both as a leader and in accompaniment of his famous sons. For his latest project, Marsalis has started his own label ELM Records, and has finished a tribute album called “An Open Letter to Thelonious Monk," scheduled for release on April 8th,2008. He continues to perform locally in his city of New Orleans.

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