Sallie Jayne Richardson, always called Jayne, was born on the Army base at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., on May 10, 1934. (The year of her birth is often misreported as 1936.) Her father was a career soldier who would serve in both world wars; her mother was a secretary.
Reared in Los Angeles, young Jayne Richardson reveled in the jazz and Latin recordings that her parents collected. She studied art, music and drama in high school and later attended Compton Community College. She took the surname Cortez, the maiden name of her maternal grandmother, early in her artistic career.
In the summers of 1963 and 1964, Ms. Cortez worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, registering black voters in Mississippi. It was this work as much as anything, she later said, that caused her to regard art and political action as an indivisible whole.
She gave her first public poetry readings with the Watts Repertory Theater Company, a Los Angeles ensemble she founded in 1964. Ms. Cortez, who had homes in Manhattan and Dakar, Senegal, was also a founder of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, established in 1991.
Ms. Cortez’s marriage to Mr. Coleman ended in divorce in 1964, after 10 years. Besides her son, she is survived by her second husband, Melvin Edwards, a prominent sculptor whom she married in 1975; a sister, Shawn Smith; three stepdaughters, Ana, Margit and Allma Edwards; and a grandson.
Her volumes of poetry, many illustrated by Mr. Edwards, include “Festivals and Funerals” (1971), “Coagulations” (1984) and “Jazz Fan Looks Back” (2002); her albums include “Everywhere Drums” (1990) and “Taking the Blues Back Home” (1996).
Ms. Cortez, who taught at universities throughout the United States, including Rutgers, was among the artists featured — others include Amiri Baraka, Charles Bukowski, John Cage and Allen Ginsberg — in Ron Mann’s esteemed 1982 documentary film, “Poetry in Motion.”
Despite her work’s eclecticism, Ms. Cortez was comfortable invoking a single genre to describe it, precisely because that genre was itself so encompassing.
“Jazz isn't just one type of music, it’s an umbrella that covers the history of black people from African drumming to field hollers and the blues,” she told The Weekly Journal, a black newspaper in Britain, in 1997. “In the sense that I also try to reflect the fullness of the black experience, I’m very much a jazz poet.”
Jayne Cortez, a poet and performance artist whose work was known for its visceral power, its political outrage and above all its sheer, propulsive musicality, died on December 28, 2012 in Manhattan, NYC. She was 78.
Her death, at Beth Israel Medical Center, was from heart failure, her son, the jazz drummer Denardo Coleman, said.
One of the central figures of the Black Arts Movement — the cultural branch of the black power movement that flourished in the 1960s and ’70s — Ms. Cortez remained active for decades afterward, publishing a dozen volumes of poetry and releasing almost as many recordings, on which her verse was seamlessly combined with avant-garde music.
She performed on prominent stages around the world, including, in New York, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Museum of Modern Art and Carnegie Hall.
Ms. Cortez’s work was beyond category by virtue of embodying so many categories simultaneously: written verse, African and African-American oral tradition, the discourse of political protest, and jazz and blues. Meant for the ear even more than for the eye, her words combine a hurtling immediacy with an incantatory orality.
Starting in the 1960s, Ms. Cortez began performing her work to musical accompaniment. For the past three decades she toured and recorded with her own band, the Firespitters, whose members include her son, from her first marriage, to the saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman.
As performed, Ms. Cortez’s poems were not so much set to music as they were a part of the music. They were chanted more than recited, employing carefully calibrated repetitions, shifts in tempo and modulations of vocal tone.
It was as if her verse, which often took on large, painful subjects like racism and misogyny, had become an instrument itself — an instrument, Ms. Cortez felt strongly, to be wielded in the service of social change.
In one of her best-known works, “If the Drum Is a Woman,” for instance, she indicts violence against women. (The title invokes Duke Ellington’s 1956 composition “A Drum Is a Woman”):
why are you pounding your drum into an insane babble
why are you pistol-whipping your drum at dawn
why are you 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
To visit the website of the late Jayne Cortez CLICK HERE.
In 1956, Mr. Jamal, who had already been joined by bassist Israel Crosby in 1955, replaced guitarist Ray Crawford with a drummer. Working as the “house trio” at Chicago's Pershing Hotel drummer Vernell Fournier joined this trio in 1958 and Mr. Jamal made a live album for Argo Records entitled “But Not For Me”. The resulting hit single and album, that also included 'Poinciana' -- his rendition could be considered his “signature”. This album remained on the Ten Best-selling charts for 108 weeks -- unprecedented then for a jazz album. This financial success enabled Mr. Jamal to realize a dream, and he opened a restaurant/club, The Alhambra, in Chicago. Here the Trio was able to perform while limiting their touring schedule and Mr. Jamal was able to do record production and community work.
Mr. Jamal was born on July 2, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A child prodigy who began to play the piano at the age of 3, he began formal studies at age 7. While in high school, he completed the equivalent of college master classes under the noted African-American concert singer and teacher Mary Caldwell Dawson and pianist James Miller. He joined the musicians union at the age of 14, and he began touring upon graduation from Westinghouse High School at the age of 17, drawing critical acclaim for his solos. In 1950, he formed his first trio, The Three Strings. Performing at New York's The Embers club, Record Producer John Hammond “discovered” The Three Strings and signed them to Okeh Records (a division of Columbia, now Sony Records).
Mr. Jamal has continued to record his outstanding original arrangements of such standards as 'I Love You', 'A Time For Love', 'On Green Dolphin Street' (well before Miles Davis!), 'End of a Love Affair', to cite a few. Mr. Jamal's own classic compositions begin with 'Ahmad's Blues' (first recorded on October 25, 1951!), 'New Rhumba', 'Manhattan Reflections', 'Tranquility', 'Extensions', 'The Awakening', 'Night Mist Blues' and most recently 'If I Find You Again', among many others..
In 1994, Mr. Jamal received the American Jazz Masters award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The same year he was named a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University, where he performed commissioned works with the Assai String Quartet. A CD is available of these works.
In 1970, Mr. Jamal performed the title tune by Johnny Mandel for the soundtrack of the film “Mash!”; and in 1995, two tracks from his hit album “But Not For Me” -- 'Music, Music, Music', and 'Poinciana' -- were featured in the Clint Eastwood film “The Bridges of Madison County”.
Mr. Jamal's CD entitled “The Essence” features tenor saxophonist George Coleman -- Mr. Jamal's first recording made with a horn! Critical acclaim and outstanding sales resulted in two prestigious awards: D'jango D'or (critics) and Cloch (for sales) in France. Its success generated a concert at Salle Pleyel, and a CD has been released “Ahmad Jamal a Paris” (1992) and a second “live” concert by Mr. Jamal in l996 under the same title, unissued except in France and available on the Dreyfus Records on the Internet, Mr. Jamal rightly considers one of his best recordings. Ahmad Jamal's 70th Birthday “live” concert recording Olympia 2000, is known as “The Essence Part III”. “The Essence, Part II”, featured Donald Byrd on the title track, and on his CD entitled “Nature”, Stanley Turrentine is featured on 'The Devil's In My Den', and steel drummer Othello Molineaux augments the trio format. Continuing his recording career, Mr. Jamal released “In Search of” on CD, and his first DVD “Live In Baalbeck”.
For students of the piano, Hal Leonard Publications has published “The Ahmad Jamal Collection”, a collection of piano transcriptions. Mr. Jamal continues to record exclusively for the French Birdology label, and his albums are released on Verve and Atlantic in the United States.
Mr. Jamal is an exclusive Steinway piano artist.
Mr. Jamal's 'About My Life' story in his own words:
At three years of age, my wonderful Uncle Lawrence stopped me while I was walking past the piano in my parents' living room. He was playing the piano and challenged me to duplicate what he was doing. Although I had never touched this or any piano, I sat down and played note for note what I had heard. “The rest is history.”
What a thrilling ride it has been and continues to be. I was born in one of the most remarkable places in the world for musicians and people in the arts - Pittsburgh, PA. At seven years, I was selling newspapers to Billy Strayhorn's family. Billy had already left home; I didn't get to meet him until years later. Following is a partial listing of “Pittsburghers:”
After touring with George Hudson's Orchestra, I traveled to Chicago with The Four Strings, a group headed by violinist, Joe Kennedy, Jr. Unfortunately, the group disbanded because of a lack of employment and in 1951, I formed The Three Strings.
The year 1951 was the beginning of my recording career. “Ahmad's Blues,” which I wrote in 1948 during my stint with a song and dance team out of East St. Louis, was one of my first recordings; “Ahmad's Blues” has been heard in the stage play, “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” and recorded by Marlena Shaw, Natalie Cole, Red Garland and others. The first session also included my arrangement of the folk tune, “Billy Boy,” which arrangement was copied by many of my peers. I wrote “New Rhumba” around 1951 and it has also been recorded and performed by many others, most notably Miles Davis. My most famous recording was done in Chicago in 1958 at the Pershing Hotel with two of the most talented musicians of the century, Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier.
Five decades covering my career are most interesting to me and contain some of the historical data that you can find by clicking the indicated categories of my web page menu. What you can't find won't be available until my proposed autobiography goes to print.
To Visit Ahmad Jamal's website CLICK HERE
My name is Clayton E. Corley, Sr. aka Big Trigger host and producer of an award winning internet program!