Ellis Marsalis Left Indelible Mark at UC Davis

Piano with Marsalis' signature.
A Steinway piano often used for UC Davis performances still bears Ellis Marsalis' signature. He signed the piano plate during his 1993 visit. (Courtesy photo) 

The renowned pianist died last week 

This blog posted by Leigh Houck, UC Davis media relations intern

Ellis Marsalis, a renowned pianist and jazz legend, passed away on April 1 at age 85. His passing was reportedly due to complications from COVID-19.  Marsalis had performed at UC Davis several times during his career, first at UC Davis Presents and later at The Mondavi Center.

Jeremy Ganter, director of programming at The Mondavi Center, penned a moving reflection on his brief but impactful interactions with Marsalis. While the two were not close, they met several times throughout Marsalis’ career as a musician and Ganter’s career at UC Davis. 

In his reflection, Ganter recalls watching Marsalis perform in 2014 alongside his son Delfeayo Marsalis in their “The Last Southern Gentlemen Tour” at the Mondavi Center. Ganter was shocked to see that Ellis’ incredible musical talent persisted unwaveringly into his later years and: “His brilliance, his impeccable touch, and his ability to swing (man did that show swing!) were all still there and in full effect. It was a night when we all felt extremely lucky just to be anywhere in the room.” Ganter also recounts a casual dinner enjoyed with Ellis. He describes Ellis as quiet and reserved, but passionate when music became the topic of discussion.

Ganter wrote about the piano that still bear Marsalis' signature.

In those days, the tradition was to have high-profile pianists sign the huge, cast iron “piano plate” inside UC Davis’ model “D” Steinway. Marsalis signed during his 1993 visit. The piano has since been refurbished and refinished. It continues its heavy rotation in the Mondavi Center’s inventory and it still sounds great; if you’ve attended a Mondavi Center concert with a pianist, there is a good chance you’ve heard it.

Read the Jeremy Ganter’s full article “The Last Southern Gentleman: Remembering Ellis Marsalis”

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