Lil' Sax

Within the past two years I've known three stroke victims to be abruptly discharged from rehab centers because their insurance no longer covered their rehabilitation. They, and their supporters, have been left to piece together plans for their care and continued recovery.

Diane Lil' Sax Ellis suffered a stroke at the beginning of a performance in La Follette Park. She's been a strong presence in Chicago's jazz community, an advocate for jazz women, and an exceptional music teacher, bringing jazz to her Dixon Public School students for over twenty years. The jazz community has held benefit concerts for Diane and continued support is needed. Please go to for more information and to find out how you can help.

The Ellis family has contributed to Chicago's cultural life for decades. Diane's father, Curtis Ellis, ran a black bookstore, Ellis' Book Store, on the southside for many years. It was a hub for information and inspiration during the civil rights and black consciousness movements. I loved going there for books, and to feel the warmth and friendly spirit of the late Mr. Ellis.

Diane's uncles, Jimmy and Morris, were well known jazz musicians and mentors. Saxophonist Jimmy Ellis welcomed me into the jazz fold at his weekly open big band rehearsals at Roberts Motel.  After studying at DuSable High School with the legendary Capt. Walter Dyett, Jimmy played with  Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Earl Hines, Sun Ra and many others. Only in 2016 did he release an album under his own name, The Jimmy Ellis Quartet: Live at Andy's Jazz Club in Chicago.

Morris Ellis, a trombonist who also studied with Capt. Dyett, started a band while attending Howard University. The Morris Ellis Orchestra was a fixture around Chicago, playing at numerous events, including parties, dances, and the inauguration of Mayor Harold Washington. In addition to leading the band until his retirement in 2010, Morris Ellis was an active studio musician.

With music all around her, it was no surprise that Diane would become a music professional. Known for her cheerful disposition, a positive energy that came through her music, she led and/or performed with several groups during her career, most famously The Jazzy Ladies, an all female ensemble.

As an educator, Diane Ellis taught music to all grade levels at Dixon for 23 years, with jazz as the focal point of her instruction. Many of her students have gone on to careers in many areas of the music business. Marquis Hill, an award winning trumpeter, was a student of Diane Ellis and is garnering worldwide recognition.

We hope that Lil Sax can make a full recovery, regaining her ability to spread joy and love through music. She needs the support of all who can help, from near and far.


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