Jayne Cortez is a fiery poet. Her words come fast, splashing pungent metaphors across your inner skull.
She is a celebrant of time-transcending and global blackness, possessed of a jazz voice as clean-toned as Sonny’s horn.
And she is a political agitator who makes you want to study stuff.
Jayne Cortez’s recordings, alas, are hard to find. Once found, they are to be highly valued. (Her books of poetry are easier to come by.)
At the age of 18, Cortez married trailblazing musician Ornette Coleman. Their son, drummer Denardo Coleman, is her primary collaborator. Musicians from the front ranks of jazz appear on Cortez’s poetry CDs. Ron Carter, Frank Lowe, James “Blood” Ulmer, James Carter, Bobby Bradford, Talib Kibwe (T.K. Blue)...
Thankfully, I can point you to some FREE MP3 downloads. Three, to be precise. Follow this link to the San Francisco Chronicle’s website. The Chronicle did a nice piece on Ms. Cortez last October.
Also, I see on the Web a compilation CD, “Find Your Own Voice” – for sale here and here – but I’m unfamiliar with those two sites, so... FYI.
I am streaming a few pieces from Jayne Cortez. Click the titles below to hear them.
1. “A Miles Davis Trumpet”
From her 2003 CD “Borders of Disorderly Time.” Cortez is backed solely by Ron Carter on this track, which is a tribute to Carter’s former boss.
2. “Drying Spit Blues”
From the 1990 CD “Everywhere Drums” (my favorite Jayne Cortez album). This track features the core of Cortez’s backing band, the Firespitters: Denardo Coleman, guitarist Bern Nix and bass player Al MacDowell.
As the trio churns up an unsettling groove, Cortez spits a dizzying text... free associations oozing with bodily fluids. Its meaning is elusive, but its language is hypnotic.
3. “They Want the Oil”
From the 1994 CD “women in (e)motion,” recorded in front of a live audience in Bremen, Germany. (Somebody’s charging $90 for a used copy on eBay.)
This poem might make you think of Iraq, but Cortez had Nigeria in mind when she wrote it.
4. “I Wonder Who”
From the 1994 CD “Cheerful & Optimistic.” This is one of Cortez’s occasional pan-Africanist statements of purpose. She shit-talks not only the corpse of Cecil Rhodes but the Tonton Macoutes as well. Guest musicians include two kora players from Gambia.
5. “Bumblebee, You Saw Big Mama”
From the 1996 CD “Taking the Blues Back Home.” Guest artist: Billy Branch on harmonica. Here is what Cortez wrote about the poem in her CD liner notes:
“I saw Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton when she was a young optimistic singer with the Johnny Otis band in Watts... where I grew up in the 1950s. Later I saw her perform with her own band at folk clubs like the Ash Grove in Los Angeles and at blues festivals.
“The last time I saw and spoke to Willie Mae was at the Cookery Restaurant in New York City. She was working with pianist Sammy Price who had gotten her the gig replacing singer Alberta Hunter for a week in the early 1980s.
“Big Mama, a strong, brilliant singer whose performances were intense and unpredictable, made the owner, Barney Josephson, a nervous wreck. By then her dreams had dimmed, her health was bad and reality had clicked.
“My poem written in the 1980s describes some of the events and places where she touched down. In the poem, Bumblebee is an imaginary force, a poetic device that evolves from promoter, to sweetheart, to rival, to abuser, to enemy. ...”