DOWNEY - Jerry Cavazos was a saxophone player with style. He parlayed the sweet sound of his horn into a career playing with bands such as the Coasters, Anthony and the Imperials, Rosie and the Originals and Thee Midnighters. He was nominated for two Emmy Awards for his musical specials on PBS. He was seemingly on top of the world.But one day in 2002, while speaking to a friend on the telephone, Jerry's life took a dramatic turn when he felt a searing pain in his head and crashed to the floor. He was the victim of a brutal stroke that incapacitated his right side. His life hung by a thread for several days, but then he stabilized. Still, Jerry had lost the use of his right hand, and he thought his lifelong love affair with his beloved saxophone was over. After all, everyone knew you couldn't play the sax with just one hand. But Jerry was lucky. He was admitted to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center for treatment of his stroke, where people believed in him and his dream to someday play his saxophone again. After a few weeks of intensive therapy, Jerry began to think that the impossible was within his grasp. In his own words, this is Jerry's story about how he witnessed a miracle in his life, thanks to the people of Rancho Los Amigos and his willingness to believe. "I was a 12-year old kid growing up in East Los Angeles," Jerry says. "I was learning to play the violin when I heard the saxophone for the first time. I couldn't get that sound out of my mind." Jerry instantly switched instruments. There was music everywhere in East L.A. "You would hear mariachis, you would hear bandas, and you would hear rhythm and blues," Jerry says. "The rhythm and blues really got to me. It opened up a new world for me." Within a few years Jerry was playing his sax with well-know musicians and popular bands. "I played with Rosie and the Originals, Joe Houston, the Coasters, and Anthony and the Imperials," Jerry says. "I was a soloist, because I had a good tone and a good sound. It was a gift from God that I could do that." Jerry was one of the original members of Thee Midniters and he also played with the Blue Satins and the VIPs (who eventually became El Chicano). He played the sax for many years, building a life where music was at the core. But he was about to lose it all. "Right before I had my stroke in 2002 I was on the phone talking to a friend," Jerry says. "I was planning to go to lunch, then I was going to buy myself a new car. I put the phone down, I put on my coat and it hit me in the head like a lightning bolt. All of a sudden my whole world changed. I was on the floor and I could see that I was paralyzed." "When I first came to Rancho, my stroke had me flat on my back," he says. "When the doctors and therapists at Rancho started working with me, I was crying inside because I thought I had lost everything." Encouraged and emboldened by his Rancho treatment team, Jerry started to fight. "I knew I would have to pick up my horn sooner or later," he says. "When I finally tried to play, I couldn't, because my right hand was useless." Jerry's Rancho therapists challenged him to learn how to play with just his left hand. "My therapists were great," he says. "They knew how to touch me, not just physically, but in my heart. They were always there for me. They did an awesome job." At first, Jerry thought his Rancho clinicians were asking too much of him, because he had never heard of anyone playing a saxophone with just one hand, "But then I realized that I had to get my mind off the negative and think about what I could do, instead of being worried about what I couldn't do," he says. "I couldn't play three notes as fast as I used to, so I tried just playing one note at a time," Jerry says. "I would try to play it really smoothly, and I knew I would have to learn to play a different way." "As I started playing the horn, the sound I was getting was just terrific. Suddenly, people were saying, 'How beautifully you play!'" The next step was to play publicly again. "When they first asked me to play in the Performing Arts of Rancho show, I didn't think I could do it," Jerry admits. "But I thought I should try. When I came to rehearsal with my sax and heard the music, I really felt it in my heart, in my body, and in my soul." "While I was practicing for the show, I began to believe I could do it," Jerry says. Something that had seemed so far away was now tantalizingly close to becoming a reality. Then the day of the show arrived. "The sound I was getting was terrific, and I really enjoyed it," he says. "It was very rewarding to be able to give of yourself. I could see the smiles on the faces of the people in the audience. They were enjoying my performance as much as I was!" When he finished, the auditorium was hushed for a moment, then the audience rose and saluted Jerry with a lengthy standing ovation. He was back. Today, Jerry has refocused his life and set new goals. "My dream is to be able to express myself the way I am, not the way I was," he says. "I can play with a lot more depth than before, and I know that each note I play is going to come out with sweetness and taste." "I want to be able to play in churches and give my testimony of how life really is," Jerry says. "I want to be able to speak with my voice and with my music to help inspire others. I have discovered that life's challenges are not a downer, because your life can still be what you make of it." Now Jerry is preparing for the next milestone in his miraculous recovery. On Saturday, May 7, at the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation's Annual Amistad Gala at the Westin Long Beach Hotel, he will become the first Rancho patient to do a live performance in the 25-year history of the event. "I will be playing to thank everyone at Rancho for the hope and strength they have given me," Jerry says. "My faith in myself is stronger than ever, and I know in my heart that I will make people happy by blowing my horn until I get to heaven." For more information, please call the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation at (562) 401-7053 or visit www.rancho.org.
********** Published: April 21, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 1