The third in the series of performances hosted by the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council next Friday could fill the house yet again.
“Tickets are selling fast and we’re on track for another sell-out show,” Executive Director Laurie Ruffner said. “Our subscribers and fans of jazz music are amazed that we were able to host the legendary Ellis Marsalis on our rural stage in Hamilton.”
Playing for crowds since the 1940s, Marsalis has been dubbed a preservationist of traditional jazz and a modern patriarch of the genre. He is legendary, not only because of his individual accomplishments and 20 albums, but because of those he has mentored. Four of his six sons who are also accomplished jazz musicians – Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason - and he’s also mentored other jazz entertainers like Harry Connick Jr. and Nicholas Payton.
Ellis will celebrate his 83rd birthday just a few days prior to his Hamilton performance and will bring two accomplished sidekicks directly from New Orleans.
“I’ve played in Missoula a couple of times, but this will be my first time to Hamilton.” Marsalis said. “We intend to come and swing. And we don’t mind a little dancing in the aisles.”
As a musician in the Marines when he was young, Ellis’ thoughts of patriotism rise like the rest of us this time of year.
“Most of what I’m doing right now in terms of music is because I live here in America and the influences that I’ve been blessed to receive by living in this country,” he said. “Two years in the Marines was a great learning experience for me and I’m proud to be American and the opportunities it affords each one of us.”
Ellis picked up a clarinet as a young child and easily mastered the tenor saxophone as a teenager, playing his first professional gig as a 13-year-old. It was Harold Battiste, Jr. who mentored him through the rest of his teenage years and into the next decade.
“On the technical side, he showed me how to read what we call chord symbols and how to play a regular jazz piece,” Ellis said. “He also thought I should put down the saxophone and he put me in the direction of playing piano.”
Ellis studied music at Dillard University in New Orleans and recorded with a jazz group in 1956. After the Marines and a regular television broadcast of the corps performances, Ellis married the love of his life, Delores Ferdinand and started a family. He continued performing and continued his higher education. Later, he was an educator at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana. To this day, he continues to teach, compose, perform and influence other musicians and was already inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
“I tell everyone that higher education is an absolute necessity. Because there’s a lot to be learned visually for a serious student in music,” he said. “But for the most part what I’m doing now has very little to do directly with university studies, but it gave me confidence to play everywhere I could.”
Ellis passed along that confidence to his sons and has recorded with them individually on occasion. The youngest, Jason, started playing drums with his dad at concerts as a 5 year old and continued to perform with the group until he graduated from high school.
“It’s been a fun ride,” he said. “And I’m glad I don’t have to slow down entirely. Not yet anyway.”
The Ellis Marsalis Trio will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 17 at Hamilton High School.
Next in the BPAC series is the Dustbowl Revival, which is making big waves in the music world and is set to play Friday, Jan. 12, 2018. To purchase tickets to either show, stop by the BPAC Box office in Signal Square on Main Street in Hamilton or call 363-7946. Tickets to individual shows may also be purchased online at www.bitterrootperformingarts.org.