Jayne Cortez

Jayne Cortez spoke and wrote with an uncompromising intensity. She was acerbic, uncompromising, unentimental, and blunt in her views on reality. Many poets might be compared to her. Over the years, the musicians she allied herself with reflected and highlighted the sociopolitical as well as cultural aspects to which she was most attached. Born in Fort Huachuca in Arizona in 1936, she grew to be a Los Angeles native under the influence of her parents’ jazz and Blues records collection. It also contained recordings of Latin American dance bands, and field recordings of tribal American music. Bessie Smith’s recordings instilled in her a deep sense of femininity. This, along with a strong will, made her a unique and outspoken individual. The sounds of Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gilliespie, Dizzy Gillespie, Dizzy Guspie, Dinah Washington, and Dinah Washington’s visceral approach encouraged her to speak out. Cortez was a strong supporter of Josephine Baker’s memory and preferred to identify inspirations over influences when discussing writers. Langston Hughes, Aime Cezar, Leon Damas and Christopher Okigbo were among the people she identified with. There are also parallels to the beautiful/ugly poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. Her words were often written and chanted in rhythmic repetition patterns, which closely resembled the tactile language of African and Caribbean drumming. Cortez, then aged 18, married Ornette Coleman, a saxophonist. Their son Denardo was born in 1956. He began drumming with Ornette Coleman as a child. Cortez split with Coleman in 1964 and started Watts Repertory Theater Company. She was the artistic director of this company until 1970. She was active in the fight for Civil Rights in Mississippi and traveled extensively through Europe and Africa before moving to New York City in 1967. Bola Press, which Cortez founded in 1972, has issued most of her recordings. In 1974, she recorded her first album, Celebrations and Solitudes. It was a set of duets she recorded with Richard Davis, the bassist. It was released by Strata East. Taped October 1979, the first Bola Press recording was Unsubmissive blues. It included “For Brave Young Students in Soweto”. Cortez began delivering her poetry with the backing of an electro-funk jazz band called the Firespitters. It was composed around guitarist Bern Nix and bassist Al McDowell as well as drummer Denardo Coleman. The Firespitters, Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time and Denardo were co-existing for many years with Denardo being the axis of both groups and other players in both. In 1975, Cortez married Melvin Edwards, a painter, sculptor and printmaker. His work appears in several of her albums covers and publications. Cortez released There It Is in 1982. It was an album that embodied her artistic vision. There are “I See Chano Pozo,” a joyfully evocative salute Dizzy Gillespie’s Cuban percussionist; “If the Drum Is a Woman,” which is a scathing indictment against patriarchal violence; and “US/Nigerian Relation,” which consists a sentence “They Want the oil but they don’t want the people” chanted devilish-like over an escalating electrified jazz blowout. Her 1986 album Maintain Control is notable for Ornette Coleman’s emotive saxophone playing on “No Simple Explanations”, the disturbing “Deadly Radiation Blues” and the hard-hitting “Economic Love Song,” which are all variations of her tantrum-like repetition rituals that revolve around “Military spending, huge profits and death.” Among several subsequent albums, Cheerful

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