Renowned bassist Tony Markellis passed away on Thursday, April 29th, his family and colleagues have confirmed. A cause of death has not been specified.
Over his half-century career, Markellis played music of nearly every genre. His credits span the dials of FM radio with musicians including Paul Butterfield, The Mamas & The Papas, David Bromberg, his own jazz-fusion group Kilimanjaro, and many more, appearing on over 100 albums. The same day Markellis’ death was announced, guitarist Marcus Rezak released his latest solo album, featuring contributions from the late bassist.
To many in the live music scene, Markellis is best known for his work with Trey Anastasio. He became the first member of Trey’s first solo band in the 1990s and went on to follow the Phish guitarist through numerous permutations and into his recent Ghosts Of The Forest project. His contributions to the Trey Anastasio solo catalog and, by extension, the Phish repertoire cannot be overstated: his unwavering bass grooves are the bedrock of fan favorites like “First Tube”, “Sand”, “Plasma”, “Gotta Jibboo”, and countless others.
Most recently, Markellis served as a fixture in Anastasio’s ever-evolving outfit for The Beacon Jams, a run of eight late-2020 livestream shows performed at an empty Beacon Theatre in New York City. The Beacon Jams went on to raise more than one million dollars for the Divided Sky Foundation, a newly formed arm of the WaterWheel Foundation that aims to open an addiction treatment center in Vermont. Read Anastasio’s post about Markellis’s passing below.
View this post on Instagram
Markellis’ music career began in the third grade as a member of the Ray Bjork Elementary School Orchestra in his hometown of Helena, MT. His artistic evolution led him to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1969 where he studied anthropology and art, as well as played music after school with the local scene of musicians. According to the biography on his website, his friend Bonnie Raitt directed the young bassist to Martha’s Vineyard where Markellis spent the winter of 1972–73, working with singer-songwriter Joel Zoss.
Martha’s Vineyard couldn’t hold Markellis for long, as he moved to New York City in 1973 where he joined the David Bromberg Band. It was there that Markellis was thrown into the eclectic multi-genre world that led him to share the stage with luminaries including Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, Buddy Cage, Jimmy Buffett, Jerry Jeff Walker, members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and more who would all occasionally sit in.
The bassist moved to Saratoga Springs, NY in 1975 where he lived until his death. Last year, Markellis published his first collection of short stories, Life…Real & Imagined.