Al Young title

JAYNE CORTEZ (May 10, 1934–December 28, 2012) | In Memoriam

JAYNE CORTEZ OBITUARY | Poet whose incantatory performances could be militant, lyrical and surreal | Margaret Busby, UK Guardian | January 4, 2013
“Jayne” (the melody) | The Ornette Coleman Quintet


 Ray Black

“I say things to myself
in a bitch of a syllable …
completely savage to the passing of silence.”

—Jayne Cortez

( from “Phraseology,” a classic Cortez poem;
cited with appreciation in Karen Ford’s portion of “On Cortez’s Poetry,” an omnibus critique at Modern American Poetry)


JAYNE CORTEZ | Voices from the Gaps | University of Minnestota


© Marcia Wilson

Jayne Cortez (Sallie Jayne Richardson) was born May 10, 1934 in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and grew up in Southern California. She was the author of ten books of poems and performed her poetry with music on nine recordings. Cortez presented her work and ideas at universities, museums, and festivals in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, the Caribbean and the United States.

Her poems have been translated into many languages and widely published in anthologies, journals and magazines, including Postmodern American Poetry, Daughters of Africa, Poems for the Millennium, Mother Jones, and The Jazz Poetry Anthology.

She was organizer of “Slave Routes the Long Memory” and “Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalization,” both conferences held at New York University. In 1991, with Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo, she founded the Organization of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA). She is president of this literary organization. She appeared on screen in the films Women In Jazz and Poetry in Motion.

She married Ornette Coleman in 1954 and divorced him in 1964. She was the mother of jazz drummer Denardo Coleman.

In 1976 she married sculptor Melvin Edwards. She lived in Dakar, Senegal, and New York City, where she died.

© Wikipedia [tweaked by A.Y.]



Under the edge of February
in hawk of a throat
hidden by ravines of sweet oil
by temples of switch blades
beautiful in its sound of fertility
beautiful in its turban of funeral crepe
beautiful in its camouflage of grief
in its solitude of bruises
in its arson of alert
Who will enter its beautiful calligraphy of blood

Its beautiful mask of fish net
mask of hubcaps mask of ice picks mask
of watermelon rinds mask of umbilical cords
changing into a mask of rubber bands
Who will enter this beautiful beautiful mask of
punctured bladders moving with a mask of chapsticks

Compound of Hearts Compound of Hearts

Where is the lucky number for this shy love
this top heavy beauty bathed with charcoal water
self conscious against a mosaic of broken bottles
broken locks broken pipes broken
bloods of broken spirits broken through like
broken promises

Landlords Junkies Thieves
enthroning themselves in you
they burn up couches they burn down houses
and infuse themselves against memory
every thought a pavement of old belts
every performance a ceremonial pick up
how many more orphans how many neglected shrines
how many more stolen feet stolen guns
stolen watch bands of death
in you how many times

hidden by ravines of sweet oil
by temples of switch blades
beautiful in your sound of fertility
beautiful in your turban of funeral crepe
beautiful in your camouflage of grief
in your solitude of bruises in
your arson of alert

© Jayne Cortez


Biography and Bibliography



  © Ray Black | clickable image

L-R: Poets Camille Dungy, Robert Chrisman, Jayne Cortez, Al Young, Melba Joyce Boyd, Conyus, Arthur Sheridan, and (seated) Adam David Miller — following a 40th anniversary celebration reading for The Black Scholar Journal at the University of California, Berkeley ~ November 2009


viewer discretion advised


Open to Whatever Happens: The Cultural Operations of Jayne Cortez at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art | May 16, 1997 | UCTV’s ‘Artists on the Cutting Edge’ series


  Jayne Cortez Dot Com
clickable images


Jayne Cortez is the author of eleven books of poetry and performer of her poems with music on nine recordings. Her voice is celebrated for its political, surrealistic, dynamic innovations in lyricism, and visceral sound. Cortez has presented her work and ideas at universities, museums, and festivals around the world. Her poems have been translated into many languages and widely published in anthologies, journals, and magazines. She is a recipient of several awards including: Arts International, the National Endowment for the Arts, the International African Festival Award. The Langston Hughes Medal, The American Book Award, and the Thelma McAndless Distinguished Professorship Award.

Her most recent books include THE BEAUTIFUL BOOK (Bola Press) and JAZZ FAN LOOKS BACK (Hanging Loose Press). Her latest CDs with the Firespitter Band are FIND YOUR OWN VOICE, BORDERS OF DISORDERLY TIME (Bola Press), TAKING THE BLUES BACK HOME, produced by Harmolodic and by Verve Records. Cortez is organizer of the international symposium: “Slave Routes: Resistance, Abolition & Creative Progress” (NYU), and director of the film Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalization. She is co-founder and president of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc., and can be seen on screen in the films Women In Jazz and Poetry In Motion.

The #1 Site for African American Literature


  Ray Black

“You, Jayne, remembered Jayne, winging your way back to how honored I felt to chauffeur you one soft-chilled night in 2009 to dine at Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen, Berkeley, polar north to your solar south in our California flowering, where, scaling your vast vinyl collection, you taught young saxophonist Ornette and trumpeter Don Cherry the what-was, the what-is and what’s-next of jazz in 20th century Los Angeles, a city founded in 1781 by pobladores, 11 mostly Black families, who — formally, lovingly — named her El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula (Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula) — through your voice I still hear and will always feel the measureless heartbeat and deepening drumbeat of Cuba’s and bebop’s unplunderable treasure: Chano Pozo
—Al Young


Jayne Cortez — poet, activist, muse of the avant garde — dies, age 78

By Howard Mandel
December 30, 2012


<<< An activist in the Civil Rights movement, organizer of Watts writing and drama workshops, founder of the Watts Repertory Theater, Bola Press and co-founder of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Ms. Cortez was also taught at Rutgers, Howard, Wesleyan and Eastern Michigan universities, Dartmouth and Queens colleges and was a muse to the avant garde. Her husband sculptor Melvin Edwards is well known for his series “Lynch Fragments” and “Rockers.” When Ms. Cortez was a teenager in California, musicians including Don Cherry hung out at her family’s home because she had (as Cherry said) “the best record collection,” and through them she met Ornette Coleman, to whom she was married from 1954 to ’64 and with whom she kept in contact. Members of the Firespitters such as guitarist Bern Nix and bassist Jamaaldeen Tacuma, besides Denardo, played in Ornette’s electrically amplified band Prime Time. >>>

© 2012 Howard Mandel

Read all of Howard Mandel’s affectionate tribute to Jayne Cortez at Jazz Beyond Jazz


One Response to “JAYNE CORTEZ (May 10, 1934–December 28, 2012) | In Memoriam”

  1. Avotcja Says:

    Beautiful tribute!

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