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Legend Ellis Marsalis Plays Lagniappe Concert

October 24, 2007

Mary Ann Travis

Jazz is an art form where the new cats learn by playing with their elders. The musicians — young and old — improvise, keyed to each other. And if there’s one man who knows how to synchronize to a syncopated beat, it is legendary jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, who will perform on campus on Nov. 1.


Famed jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, who received an honorary degree at Tulane commencement in May, performs Nov. 1 on the uptown campus. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Marsalis achieves “quiet magic” from beginning to end in his playing, critics say. And he’ll bring that magic back — along with his band — to the Tulane uptown campus in Dixon Hall at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

A New Orleans native, Marsalis is a musical patriarch who has played innovative modern jazz since the 1950s. He also is a renowned teacher whose former students include musicians such as Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Harry Connick Jr., Nicholas Payton, Kent and Marlon Jordan, Steve Masakowski and Rene Coman of the Iguanas, among others.

And then there are the biological Marsalis sons. Ellis and his wife, Dolores, have six sons. And four of them are famous musicians — Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason.

Jazz critic Adam Hill says, “Marsalis’s talent is the kind that does not initially draw too much attention to itself, but instead draws very sensitive attention to the melodic logic and pacing of each song. And that’s when you appreciate the precision and clarity of the playing.”

At Tulane commencement 2007, Marsalis was awarded an honorary degree from Tulane. In the audience to watch her grandson, Michael Finger, receive a bachelor of arts was Myrna Lipton Daniels, a 1952 Newcomb College graduate.

Marsalis played jazz piano in his signature style at the ceremony, and he remarked how much he missed the old Lagniappe programs, where he had played on the Tulane campus before Hurricane Katrina. The Lagniappe program introduced students to the city’s cultural treasures, but was not reinstated after the storm.

“Right then and there,” Daniels says she pledged to do something to bring Lagniappe back.

That something is a Daniels Foundation gift in excess of $200,000 to establish an endowed fund to revive the Lagniappe program and provide for four annual events to promote the music of New Orleans.

The Marsalis concert is the first of the renewed Lagniappe series. It is sponsored by Newcomb-Tulane College. Tulane music professor John Joyce will introduce Marsalis.

A musical concept with which Marsalis has recently worked is that of space.

“Some of us are not that comfortable with space,” Marsalis told Jazz Times in 2006. “I’ve learned to be a lot more comfortable with that. One of the geniuses of Monk [Thelonious Monk, the inventive jazz pianist], man, was he was very comfortable with space. He could use space in his music in ways that you wouldn’t really necessarily know that that’s a part of it. So once I started getting comfortable with that concept I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this!’”

Stop by Dixon Hall next Thursday night and dig the space — and the musical notes in between.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000