Jazz Musicians Rally Behind Saxophonist Diane Ellis A Year After Stroke

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago’s jazz community was rallying to support one of its own; a beloved saxophonist and educator who suffered a stroke last year, leaving her partially paralyzed.

Diane Ellis has guided the talents of many young musicians. Now they’re showing their gratitude.

For Ellis, life changed as she performed at a Chicago park in April 2016.

“She was standing next to Chris Foreman, the organist, and he was playing, and she just slumped,” Charlene Gayles-Swanson said.

Ellis had suffered a major stroke.

“Here you have this woman who was so full of life, and so giving of her time and her talents, and she’s now paralyzed on the left side of her body from a hemorrhagic stroke,” Susan Oppenheimer said.

Ellis is beloved not only for decades of brilliance on the saxophone, but for her generosity as a music teacher at Dixon Elementary School.

“Her heart is the biggest heart ever,” said saxophonist John Foster, one of her many former students. “She’s like another mother to me, basically, and she refers to all of her kids as her musical children.”

For that dedication, she won an award from the Oppenheimer Foundation as a master teacher.

“She taught every student at Dixon, on her own time; created a jazz band, a concert band, a marching band,” Oppenheimer said. “And you will not find this in any elementary school in the city.”

Wednesday night, a benefit for Ellis will feature an all-star roster of jazz musicians.

“She needs full-time care. Insurance companies don’t pay for people to come in and help you clean, and eat, and change, and all the things people need when they’re partially paralyzed,” Oppenheimer said.

And the hope is to help Diane Ellis continue doing what she loves.

“The saxophone is her life. She needs a special instrument; it’s $25,000 to buy a saxophone for one hand,” Oppenheimer said.

“We have to continue to foster the growth, and just make it all happen for her again. She’s got so much more to give,” Gayles-Swanson said.

The benefit for Diane Ellis is Wednesday night at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. Tickets are available at the box office. More information is available through the Hyde Park Jazz Society.

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