Wynton Marsalis: I have joined the world in mourning

Wynton Marsalis: I have joined the world in mourning


norman lebrecht

April 02, 2020

A message from the trumpet star:

My daddy passed away last night. We now join the worldwide family who are mourning grandfathers and grandmothers, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers— kinfolk, friends, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances and others.

What can one possibly say about loss in a time when there are many people losing folks that mean so much to them? One of my friends lost both her mother AND father just last week. We all grieve and experience things differently, and I’m sure each of my five brothers are feeling and dealing in their own way.

My daddy was a humble man with a lyrical sound that captured the spirit of place–New Orleans, the Crescent City, The Big Easy, the Curve. He was a stone-cold believer without extravagant tastes. Like many parents, he sacrificed for us and made so much possible. Not only material things, but things of substance and beauty like the ability to hear complicated music and to read books; to see and to contemplate art; to be philosophical and kind, but to also understand that a time and place may require a pugilistic-minded expression of ignorance.

His example for all of us who were his students (a big extended family from everywhere), showed us to be patient and to want to learn and to respect teaching and thinking and to embrace the joy of seriousness. He taught us that you could be conscious and stand your ground with an opinion rooted ‘in something’ even if it was overwhelmingly unfashionable. And that if it mattered to someone, it mattered.

I haven’t cried because the pain is so deep….it doesn’t even hurt. He was absolutely my man. He knew how much I loved him, and I knew he loved me (though he was not given to any type of demonstrative expression of it). As a boy, I followed him on so many underpopulated gigs in unglamorous places, and there, in the passing years, learned what it meant to believe in the substance of a fundamental idea whose only verification was your belief.

I only ever wanted to do better things to impress HIM. He was my North Star and the only opinion that really deep down mattered to me was his because I grew up seeing how much he struggled and sacrificed to represent and teach vital human values that floated far above the stifling segregation and prejudice that defined his youth but, strangely enough, also imbued his art with an even more pungent and biting accuracy.

But for all of that, I guess he was like all of us; he did the best he could, did great things, had blind spots and made mistakes, fought with his spouse, had problems paying bills, worried about his kids and other people’s, rooted for losing teams, loved gumbo and red beans, and my momma’s pecan pie. But unlike a healthy portion of us, he really didn’t complain about stuff. No matter how bad it was.

A most fair-minded, large-spirited, generous, philanthropic (with whatever he had), open-minded person is gone. Ironically, when we spoke just 5 or 6 days ago about this precarious moment in the world and the many warnings he received ‘to be careful, because it wasn’t his time to pass from COVID’, he told me,” Man, I don’t determine the time. A lot of people are losing loved ones. Yours will be no more painful or significant than anybody else’s”. That was him, “in a nutshell”, (as he would say before talking for another 15 minutes without pause).

In that conversation, we didn’t know that we were prophesying. But he went out soon after as he lived—-without complaint or complication. The nurse asked him, “Are you breathing ok?” as the oxygen was being steadily increased from 3 to 8, to too late, he replied, ”Yeah. I’m fine.”

For me, there is no sorrow only joy. He went on down the Good Kings Highway as was his way, a jazz man, “with grace and gratitude.”
And I am grateful to have known him.

– Wynton



  • Jack says:

    Beautiful reflection by Wynton. Precisely what I would have expected. May Ellis rest in peace.

  • Mary Zoeter says:

    What a lovely, moving eulogy to his father.

  • John Rook says:

    Judging by your self-knowledge, your Dad clearly did a great job. A blessing on you both.

  • Ross Amico says:

    Beautiful. I am sorry for the Marsalis’ loss.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    A lovely and loving tribute to your dad, Wynton.
    What a great man and father Ellis Marsalis was, to have inspired such feelings, and what joy he must have had to see his children become great musicians.
    A full and well-lived life indeed.
    Rest in peace, Ellis. And say “hi” to Louis for me.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I so hugely admire Wynton Marsalis – and his traditional family values. Very sorry to hear about yours and your family’s loss at this time.

  • J. Gordon says:

    As eloquent verbally as musically..

  • Marg says:

    Such a wonderful man and performer. I well remember seeing him at Florida State music school a decade or so ago, and was so impressed with him as a person as well as a player. The tribute above says it all. Vale big man.

  • Symphony Musician says:

    What an incredible and moving tribute from somebody so newly grieving. I’m hereby sending heartfelt sympathy and love to Wynton and all the Marsalis family.

  • J. Roberts says:

    My hearfelt condolences to the Marsalis family. What an amazing legacy.

    In the words of a poet:

    Death Of A Comrade

    Death must not find us thinking that we die.

    Too soon, too soon
    our banner draped for you.
    I would prefer
    the banner in the wind
    not bound so tightly in a scarlet fold –
    not sodden sodden
    with your people’s tears
    but flashing on the pole
    we bear aloft
    down and beyond this dark dark lane of rags.

    Dear Comrade
    if it must be
    you speak no more with me
    nor smile no more with me
    then let me take
    a patience and a calm –
    for even now the greener leaf explodes
    sun brightens stone
    and all the river burns.

    Now from the mourning vanguard moving on
    dear Comrade I salute you and I say
    Death will not find us thinking that we die.

    Martin Carter
    Poems of Resistance, 1954.