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AN INTERVIEW WITH THE POET AND PERFORMER JAYNE CORTEZ

SEPTEMBER 12, 2007
Special for THE NEW TIMES HOLLER!
© Amir Bey, 2007
JAYNE CORTEZ
Jayne Cortez, a poet and performer whose band Firespitters is an ensemble that plays music that can be described as Jazzy, funky, bluesy, fused with African and Caribbean instruments and notions. That sound reflects her world view, which is broad and encompasses many themes such as: frustrated love, as in She Got He Got (this poem is at the end of the interview); honors music and musicians in The Guitars I Used to Know and A Miles Davis Trumpet; the threat to the environment, I Got the Blue-ooze 93; relentlessly attacks the “Art Suppressors” in The Oppressionists; and pays homage to some of her favorite writers and artists such as the painter Gilberto de la Nuez in her In Gilberto de la Nuez, and for the poet Nicolas Guillen, in her Visita and Aduepe (ah doo pway). She is married to and has collaborated with the renowned sculptor, painter and printmaker, Melvin Edwards, whose imagery can be found in illustrations for her books and on the covers of some of her albums. A visit to her website (just type in her name) will show that she has about as many albums as books, and they’re all gems.

HOLLER!: You were exposed to music at an early age; were your parents involved in music and the arts?
CORTEZ: My parents were not involved in the arts. They bought a lot of records, so they were collectors and supporters of the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter, Earl Hinds, Nat (King) Cole, Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and a number of blues musicians.
HOLLER!: Speaking of family, your son, Denardo Coleman, plays an important role in the music of you and his father, Ornette. How do you see his individual artistry and his destiny the way it parallels your early artistic experiences?
CORTEZ: Denardo grew up in a family of artists. We organized the Firespitter Band in 1980. Denardo melodically responds to the words, rhythms and images in my work. He plays very free.
HOLLER!: Who were your early influences in writing?
CORTEZ: I was inspired by the examples of writers like Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Aime Cesaire, and Leon Damas and of course great singers like Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and musician such as Charlie Parker. I was inspired but not influenced.
HOLLER!: Which came first for you, music or writing?
CORTEZ: They flow together. In life music is present. I decided to be a writer so my focus is writing.
HOLLER!: Do you play any instruments?
CORTEZ: When I was growing up I had piano lessons, and I learned to play the bass, and cello and studied harmony and theory. But I was not interested in becoming a musician.
HOLLER!: When I saw you at Vision Festival XII this summer, I was impressed with how your reading was so clear, how you had such a strong presence while also being surrounded by your powerful band, The Firespitters; it was very cohesive. Are you doing your own arrangements and compositions?
CORTEZ: The poem is the guide. Sometimes we are working on compositions by Denardo but at all times we are improvising and intensifying.
HOLLER!: What is the concept of your weave of writing and the arts? Are there any areas of the arts that have more autonomy, culturally and economically, than others in your view?
CORTEZ: I have no concept. If you are a person trying to be an economist or an analyst that's what it is. I wanted to be freely creative.
HOLLER!: Young people are attending music and art institutions at higher numbers than ever before. What kind of impact do you see this having on music and Jazz specifically and other disciplines?
CORTEZ: I'm not in the business of predicting audience development or the popularity of the arts. My concentration is the work, to express what I express in the work.
HOLLER!: What young writers do you like now?
CORTEZ: I enjoy a number of writers but I don't ask them how old they are.
HOLLER!: You spend a lot of time in Senegal; what's going on there in the arts?
CORTEZ: When I'm in Senegal I'm at home. I go out to hear all kinds of music and I attend Dakart, the visual arts biannual in Dakar, and I go to the Jazz Festival in St. Louis.
HOLLER!: How is the political and economic situation there?
CORTEZ: Like most developing countries they are developing and sorting things out. I'm not involved in the political situation.
HOLLER!: Other than established institutions, what alternative sources of inspiration can nurture young artists?
CORTEZ: African American banking.
HOLLER!: I had difficulty finding your work in record shops, and no surprise, such mainstream stores like Barnes & Nobles. St. Marks Bookstore in New York, which is supposed to offer a wide range of alternative literature, didn't have anything by you, and you're an important writer who's been on the scene for a while! What can writers -and readers- do to counteract such omissions?
CORTEZ: To counteract such omissions you have to call the bookstores and ask for the books and call records stores and ask for the CDs often.
Here’s a poem from her book, SOMEWHERE IN ADVANCE OF NOWHERE

She Got He Got Jayne Cortez
She got hot
got happy got hot
got thrilled got hot
got degreed got hot
got silly got hot
got possessive got hot
got disappointed got hot
got hurt got hot
got nurtured got hot
got bitter got hot
got drunk got hot
got drugged got hot
got rastered got hot
got pregnant got hot
got rejected got hot
got indifferent got hot
got lost got hot
got born again got hot again
got political again got hot again
got academically ambitious again got hot again
got hot hot hot again
got to be a hot skeleton in the latest hot fashion
got hot
go to be a hot feminist turning into
a hot cultural investigative gadfly got hot
got to be a hot exile flying
into alcoholic tantrums on hot buses got hot
got to be a hot four hundred pound baby doll
becoming a real hot sociable walking disease with
a pretty hot face got hot
she got hot she got sad
she got hot she got crazy
she got hot she got athletic
she got hot she got impatient
she got hot she got used
she got hot without sweat she got hot
she got hot without heat she got hot
she got hot like a hot young volcano
got hot
got hot like a hot old bubbling crater
got hot
got hot and got to screaming ‘rescue me’
got hot and got to shouting ‘open the door Richard’
got hot and got bound to a sewing machine
got hot and got glued to a cash register
got hot and got tied to a computer
got hot and got stuck on the global assembly line
she got hot she got hot hot she got hot
she got aggressive she got hot
she got bored she got hot
she got frigid she got hot
she got harassed she got hot
she got depressed she got hot
she got angry she got hot
she got hot and so much alone and hot
and so inwardly focused and hot
and numb and hot and raw and hot and
so unprepared to be so hot and
so limited and hot and so dominated by the
thought of being hot
all because a certain person didn’t say
‘I will love you forever baby’
she got hot she got hot she got hot

He got He got
He got cold
he got happy before he got cold
he got fed before he got cold
he got excited before he got cold
he got broken-hearted and warlike
and then he got cold he got cold he got cold
got self-righteous got cold
got distorted got cold
got authoritative got cold
got cold and got to going berserk in the workplace
got cold and got to pimping in the projects
got cold and got to screaming for revenge
got cold and got to handing out punishments
got cold and got to setting up
situations that would fail got cold got cold
got no recognition got cold
got high got cold got forgotten got cold
he got cold
he got cold cold cold
he got cold
got cold like a cold mercenary got cold
got cold like a cold hyper-fastidious
hotel manager got cold
he got cold like a cold militarized
supervisor of clerks got cold
got cold like a cold political hustler in the street
got cold
got cold like a cold over-the-hill CIA agent
got cold
got cold he got cold he got cold
he got cold cold cold
He got cold
He got cold without having ever
imagined that he’d be so cold & wooden &
cold & untropical & cold & plastic & cold &
mute & cold & ferocious & cold & rigid & cold
& cold while watching the sunshine &
cold while kissing himself in the mirror &
cold & removed & cold & swollen &
cold & dependent on being so cold
he got cold he got cold
he got cold & got to screaming
‘it’s a man’s world’
got cold & got to hiphopping like a peacock
got cold & got to hollering ‘I’m a macho man’
got cold & glued to a subway booth
got cold & got tied to a department of sanitation
got cold & got pinned to a patrol car
got cold & got taped to a bar stool
got cold & got engaged to a pawn shop
got cold & got married to a race track
got cold
got critically cold
got artistically cold
got miscellaneously cold
got cold
got cold & so outwardly focused
& cold & mean & cold & greedy & cold & selfish
& cold & so concerned about appearing to be
so cold
all because somebody stole his lollipop
& no one could chip through the ice
to say ‘I’ll love you forever baby don’t be so cold’
he got cold
he got cold cold cold
he got cold
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