In April 2016, Diane "Little Sax" Ellis suffered a major stroke during a tribute performance for legendary jazz organist Jimmy McGriff, with whom she toured. She has been on the mend since then, but has some way to go before she will be able to play again.
Tonight, Chicago's jazz community staged a benefit concert at the University of Chicago's Logan Center to help Ellis cover medical and rehab bills. That community loves her so much that the organizers had to turn away musicians who wanted to participate in the 2.5 hour concert. Singers Dee Alexander, Joan Collaso, Bobbi Wilsyn, and Maggie Brown paid tribute, as did bassists Katie Ernst, Yosef Ben Israel, Stewart Miller, and Junius Paul. Willie Pickens, his daughter Bethany Pickens, and Robert Irving III took rounds at the piano, as did Miguel de la Cerna. On drums were Ernie Adams, Charles Health IV, Greg Artry, and even one of Ellis' 13-year old students dressed in a paper pink sports coat. Trumpet players Ryan Nyther, Pharez Whitted, and Orbert Davis was there, as were saxophonists Ari Brown, Julie Woods, Eric Schneider and Richie Cole. And on and on--with apologies to all I did not mention by name. Terrific music and spirit.
It is worth noting that Ellis was not just a saxophonist, but a beloved teacher in the Chicago Public School system. She taught for 23 years at Arthur Dixon Elementary School. Chicago trumpet player Marquis Hill is one of her prodigies.
Over the course of the evening, videos featuring her former students appeared on the large screen hanging above the stage. Those students included trumpeter Marquis Hill and pianist Steve Solomon. It was quite apparent from the comments that Ellis has has had a great impact on the lives of her students. Others of note who provided video tributes were Steve Coleman and Jon Faddis.
At the end of the evening, Ellis appeared on stage surrounded by musicians who each wanted to be closer to her. In a clear voice, Ellis said she would finish that performance from a year ago April. Given her spirit and determination, as well as the jazz community's rock solid support, there is little doubt that she will be back performing again, paying honor to her mentor, the great Sonny Stitt, who she mentioned several times throughout the evening.
Jabari Powell Looking Very Fine in a Pair of Ray Bans as He Plays the Sax
Katie Ernst on Bass
John Foster Pays Honor to His Mentor, Diane Ellis
Orbert Davis on Trumpet
Joan Callaso, An Always Expressive Vocalist, Performed Early On
Ryan Nyther Solos on Trumpet
Robert Irving III at the Steinway
Eric Schneider Telling a Story at the Pre-Benefit Dinner in the Logan Penthouse
Rajiv Halim Performs on Saxophone
Richie Cole Holding His Saxophone as He Contemplates What It to Come
Dr. Cuz on Congas
Singer Maggie Brown Turns in a Gesture Driven Performance
Guitarist Matt Elgazar Accompanies Eric Schneider
The University of Chicago's Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts has become a powerhouse performance center, with programmers filling its stages with jazz, classical, and assorted other types of music, as well as dance and theatre. Those same folks also program concerts at other locations around the campus. Anyone living in or visiting Chicago is well-advised to check out the schedules for those venues. The Logan Center is a performance space, with an inexpensive, but excellent cafeteria.
Photographer's Note: This concert was difficult to photograph. The lights were unusually low, plus there was a wall of five or six music stands located stage front and center. Photographing horn players located in the middle of this mess was impossible. Same can be said for the drummers, who were obstructed by the wall of flesh and metalDespite those impediments, I persevered.