Ellis Marsalis, a New Orleans musical legend and patriarch of one of the most famous jazz families, is taking a retirement — of sorts.
The 85-year-old Marsalis said he no longer wanted to play two 75-minute sets every Friday on Frenchmen Street. At his age, it had gotten to be too exhausting.
So Marsalis concluded his three-decade run of weekly gigs with two sold-out shows on Dec. 27.
But he hasn’t completely retired. The plan is for him to make two or so monthly appearances at Snug Harbor as a “special guest” with other acts, sitting in for 35 minutes per set.
Marsalis and the club transitioned to this new chapter without interruption. On Jan. 3, a week after his final headlining performance, he sat in with his youngest son Jason’s band. Ellis is slated to join Jason’s ensemble at Snug Harbor again on Friday, with sets at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets are $40.
Then he’ll take a break. Clarinetist Evan Christopher and banjoist Don Vappie are booked at Snug on Friday, Jan. 17. Clarinetist Dr. Michael White & the Original Liberty Jazz Band are on tap for Jan. 24, followed by blues-based guitarist Chris Thomas King on Jan. 31.
Ellis likely won’t return to the Snug Harbor stage until after the Carnival season, which is not particularly lucrative for jazz clubs. Down the road, he’s already penciled in to join Jason at Snug on the two Fridays during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Ellis Marsalis Jr. is the literal and figurative patriarch of New Orleans’ modern jazz community. He released his debut album, “Monkey Puzzle,” in 1963. More albums, for both small and large labels, followed, as he refined his elegant take on modern jazz.