Saturday, 5 January 2013

Jayne Cortez (10/5/34 -28/12/12) Revolutionary Jazz Poet R.I.P

It is with sadness that I have discovered that poet and spoken word performer and civil rights activist Jayne Cortez has died aged 76.
An activist in the Civil Rights movement, she was an organiser of the Watts writing and dance workshop. She was also the founder of the Watts Repositary Theatre, Bola Press and co-founder of the Organisation of Women Writers of Africa.
In her poetry, she spoke of revolution, which she believed could be used to heal us all, using her voice in a powerful incantory way, using the rythyms of blues and jazz to deliver her messages of fierce, biting, social criticism to be used as imperatives of personal responsibility and change. A devotee of the artistic impulse that is jazz and blues, its impulses were to become a constant theme, using its rythyms as sparks and she became a close friend to many of the jazz greats and members of the avant garde fraternity.
I first discovered her through my own love of jazz, she was married to Ornette Coleman from 1954 until she divorced him in 1964 and I subsequently used to have some of her work on a compilation of freejazz, with her voice used as a bridge between tracks, wish I still had to it. She is best listened  to when heard, rather than directly from the page, a precursor to what is now known as hip hop.She and  Ornette had a son together, jazz drummer Denardo Coleman who she collaberated with on a number of occasions in his firespitters band. She later remarried in 1976 to sculptor Mel Edwards.
Her work has since been translated into many languages and I am widely used to seeing her name published in various anthologies over the years. Using her voice to challenge and the travesties and injustices of our world. Her voice is celebrated for its political, surrealistic pulse and dynamic innovation, with her use of lyricism and visceral sound. Using her voice to represent to the world the perspectives of an African-American feminist, revolutionary in an oral tradition stretching back centuries. Remaining independent, determined, with her singular strong voice, her spirit and ideas savaged silence and the conformity of the masses, raging against the excessives of man and all his brutality.In all her rage she spoke of survival too.
Long may her voice sing with all its energy and passion and its force hit with vivid intention.
Jayne Cortez - Artist on the Cutting edge

Jayne Cortez as she appeared in the 1982 film 'Poetry in Motion'

Jazz Fan Looks back - Jayne Cortez

I crisscrossed with  Monk
Walked with Bud
Counted every star with Stitt
Sang "Don't Blame Me" with Sarah
Wore a flower like Billie
Screamed in the range of Dinah
& scatted "How High the Moon" with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blwe roof off the Shrine Auditorium
                             Jazz at the Philarmonic

I cut my hair into a permanrnt tam
Made my feet rebellious metronomes
Embedded record needles in paint on paper
Talked bopology talk
Laughed in high-pitched saxophone phrases
Became keeper of every Bird riff
every Lester lick
as Hawk melodicized my ear of infatuated tonques
& Blakey drummed militant messages in
soul of my applauding teeth
& Ray hit bass notes to the last love scene in my bones
I moved in triple time with Max
Grooved High with Diz
Perddoed with Pettiford
Flew home with Hamp
Shuffled in Dexter's Deck
Squatty-rooed with Peterson
Dreamed a "52nd Street Theme" with Fats
& scatted "Lady Be Good" with Ella Fitzgerald
as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium
                             Jazz at the Philarmonic

There it Is - Jayne Cortez

And if we don't fight
if we don't resist
if we don't organise and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exagerrated look of captivity
the stylized look of suicide
the dehumanised look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is

If the Drum is a Woman - Jayne Cortez

If the drum is a woman
why are you pounding your drum into an insane
why are you pistol shooting through the head of your drum
and making a drum tragedy of drums
if the drum is a woman
don't abuse your drum don't abuse your drum
don't abuse your drum
I know the night is full of displaced persons
I see skins striped with flames
I know the ugly disposition of underpaid clerks they constantly menstruate through the eyes
I know bitterness embedded in flesh
the itching alone can drive you crazy
I know that this is America and chicken are coming home to roost
on the MX missile
But if the drum is a woman
why are you choking your drum
why are you raping your drum
why are you saying disrespectful things
to your mother drum your sister drum
your wife drum and your infant daughter drum
if the drum is a woman
then understand your drum
your drum is not docile
your drum is not invisible
your drum is not inferior to you
your drum is a woman
so don't reject your drum don't try to dominate your drum
don't become weak and cold and desert your drum
don't  be forced into the position
as an oppressor of drums and make a drum tragedy of drums
if the drum is a woman
don't abuse your drum don't abuse your drum
don't abuse our drum.....


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