by Steve Dalachinsky
suffering from jazzheimer’s i find it increasingly more difficult to cite my first encounters with certain folks, music etc. but to the best of my knowledge the first time i saw/met/heard Jayne Cortez was at the poetry project when she did a reading with my good friend Ted Joans (now also gone). her visceral, bold in-your-face approach totally floored me though much of her work at the time put me off due to the rawness of its images, what i later referred to as externalizing the internal as in real BLOOD and GUTS, something i had only heard Cecil Taylor do but in an entirely different manner.
after getting to know Jayne better and finding out she was Ornette Coleman’s wife early on and the mother of Denardo, a drummer who had played on such Ornette LPs as The Empty Foxhole (Blue Note) and Ornette at 12 (Impulse) when Denardo was actually 12 and who plays still with Ornette, we’d talk more and more particularly about one of her favorite subjects — JAZZ. we’d meet often at gigs and hang out a bit. she was at this point and had been since 1974, married to Melvin Edwards — the wonderful, soft spoken, huge presence of a man and one of my favorite sculptors. They had met in the late ’60 or early ‘70 in southern california & were both part of important black arts movements that grew partially out of the infamous Watts riots. an early collaboration was Jayne’s book of poems from 1971, Festivals and Funerals, for which Mel did the illustrations. they remained artistic collaborators for the rest of her life.
Jayne started a band called the Firespitters, and she’d give me CDs whenever she had new ones. she read fiercely and the band, in which Denardo also appeared, played heavily behind her. her poems ranged from social protest to feminism to jazz, and one of the first i heard by her that solidified my admiration for her work was a poem about the great conga player Chano Pozo. she never ceased to amaze me. her work was timely and timeless. if the boys in Washington lied about the Debt Ceiling, there’d be a poem about the edge of the cliff at her next reading.
we were fortunate to meet several times in paris as well and for my wife Yuko, Mel, Jayne and me, Ted Joans and jazz were 2 of the constants that kept our relationship fresh.
Jayne and Mel moved to their home away from home, Senegal, where they lived a good part of the year. up until they moved to an NYU complex a few blocks from where i live, they had lived around the corner from me — i, on spring street, they on 6th ave. — where ironically we shared the same numerical address.
in recent years Jayne, Yuko and myself would sometimes have lunch or dinner. Mel would join when he could. i had turned them on to a Dominican rice and beans joint i really loved on the lower east side and turned Jayne on to a dish i particularly enjoyed, squid and black rice. after she passed away Mel called to relay the news and informed me that while in the hospital where she abhorred the food she would ask him to go to that restaurant and take food out for her. this both heartens and saddens me.
Jayne was a force for good on the poetry, music and life scene that will sorely be missed and impossible to replace.
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Steve Dalachinsky was born in 1946, Brooklyn, New York right after the last big war and has managed to survive lots of little wars. His book The Final Nite & Other Poem: Complete Notes from a Charles Gayle Notebook, 1987-2006 (Ugly Duckling Presse) won the 2007 Josephine Miles PEN National Book Award. His most recent books are Logos and Language, a collaboration with pianist Matthew Shipp(RogueArt Press); and Reaching into the Unknown, a collaborative project with French photographer Jacques Bisceglia (RogueArt). His chapbooks include Musicology (Editions Pioche), Trial and Error in Paris (Loudmouth Collective), Lautreamont’s Laments (Furniture Press), Dream Book (Avantcular Press), Christ Amongst the Fishes (Oilcan Press), Invasion of the Animal People (Propaganda Press), The Mantis: collected poems for Cecil Taylor 1966-2009 (Iniquity Press), Trustfund Babies (Unlikely Stories Press), and The Veiled Doorway & St. Lucie (Unarmed Press). His work has appeared in publications such as Big Bridge, Milk, Tribes, Unlikely Stories, Ratapallax, Evergreen Review, Long Shot, Alpha Beat Soup, Xtant, Blue Beat Jacket, and The Brooklyn Review, and is included in anthologies such as Beat Indeed and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. He has written liner notes for the CDs of artists such as Anthony Braxton, Charles Gayle, James “Blood” Ulmer, Rashied Ali, Roy Campbell, Matthew Shipp and Roscoe Mitchell. His CDs include Incomplete Directions (Knitting Factory Records), a collection of his poetry read in collaboration with various musicians; and Phenomena of Interference, a collaboration with pianist Matthew Shipp (Hopscotch Records).
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