Artistic Director

My dad was a teacher, in music and in life. After Hurricane Katrina, he envisioned a haven for the underserved musicians and children in his hometown of New Orleans. He spent the last decade of his life committed to turning that dream into a reality at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. It is my honor to step into the role of Artistic Director at the Center and to continue to drive its mission. I hope to make my dad proud.


Branford Marsalis

Artistic Director and Co-Founder

Branford Marsalis is an award-winning saxophonist, band leader, featured classical soloist, and a film and Broadway composer. In the process, he has become a multi-award-winning artist with three Grammys, a Tony nomination for his work as a composer on Broadway, a citation by the National Endowment for the Arts as a Jazz Master, and a Primetime EMMY nomination for original score in a documentary. 

The Branford Marsalis Quartet, formed in 1986, remains his primary means of expression. In its virtually uninterrupted three-plus decades of existence, the Quartet has established a rare breadth of stylistic range. A frequent soloist with classical ensembles, Branford has become increasingly sought after as a featured soloist with acclaimed orchestras around the world, performing works by composers such as Copeland, Debussy, Glazunov, Ibert, Mahler, Milhaud, Rorem, Vaughan Williams, and Villa-Lobos. And his legendary guest performances with the Grateful Dead and collaborations with Sting have made him a fan favorite in the pop arena. 

Branford’s screen credits as a composer include original music for: Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better BluesThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks starring Oprah Winfrey, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom starring Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman, the History Channel’s documentary Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, and Rustin starring Colman Domingo. He received a 2021 EMMY nomination for the original music he composed and produced for Tulsa Burning in the Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score) category. His work on Broadway has garnered a Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination for the acclaimed revival of Fences. His previous Broadway efforts include music for the revivals of Children of a Lesser God and A Raisin in the Sun, as well as The Mountaintop, which starred Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson. 

Branford is also committed to the development of the next generation of musicians. He enjoys working with students and has formed an extended relationship with North Carolina Central University where he has been teaching for the past eighteen years. He has also taught at Michigan State University and San Francisco State University and continues to conduct workshops throughout the world. In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, Branford, along with friend Harry Connick, Jr., conceived of “Musicians’ Village,” a residential community in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The centerpiece of the Village is the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, honoring Branford’s father. The Center uses music as the focal point of a holistic strategy to build a healthy community and to deliver a broad range of services to underserved children, youth and musicians from neighborhoods battling poverty and social injustice. In January 2024, Branford was appointed Artistic Director at the Center, where he will shape the artistic trajectory and steer the organization’s creative vision for the future.

The namesake of our organization, Ellis Marsalis, sits at his piano.

Ellis Marsalis, Jr.

Artistic Director, 2012 – 2020

Ellis Marsalis, Jr., was born in New Orleans on November 14, 1934. A musician since childhood, he arrived at Dillard University playing clarinet, tenor saxophone, and piano, and continued to progress as a musician as he completed his studies in music education.

Early in his career, Mr. Marsalis played with the American Jazz Quintet and showcased his piano skills on TV and radio while completing his military service in Southern California. He returned to Louisiana, where he worked as a sought-after professional musician, taught music and band, and started a family with his wife, Dolores Ferdinand. They had six sons, four of whom became noteworthy musicians in their own right. 
In 1974, Mr. Marsalis joined the staff of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts High School, where he remained for over a decade. After earning his master’s degree in music from Loyola University, he went on to teach at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of New Orleans, where he served as the Director of Jazz Studies until his retirement. In the years that followed, he remained active in the jazz scene, recording prolifically and receiving numerous awards and honorary degrees. 

After the Center opened its doors, Mr. Marsalis took on the role of the Artistic Director, designing a curriculum grounded in music theory and establishing a standard of excellence for classroom instruction and student performance. He was a powerful presence at the Center, representing the rigor and respect world-class music education demands while also projecting warmth, offering guidance, and sending a message to each and every student that they mattered. 

Ellis Marsalis, Jr., passed away on April 1, 2020. His legacy lives on in the musical careers of his children and mentees such as Harry Connick, Jr., Terence Blanchard, and Donald Harrison, and the countless children he taught over the course of his career. His spirit also remains in the Ninth Ward, where a tradition of care, community, and excellence still envelops each student who walks into the building that bears his name.

Learn more about the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music.