Date: February 2, 2013
Location: the Cooper Union Foundation Building
Text by Dawoud Kringle
On a moderately cold Cooper Union’s Great Hall was packed with everyone who is connected with the NYC jazz and poetry scene to pay tribute to the late master poet Jayne Cortez.
Memorial began with recording of Cortez’ poem I am New York City. They continued with Lisette Santiago playing percussion and chanting.
Throughout the event, Cortez was honored with tributes, anecdotes, and poetry from Amiri Baraka, Danny Glover, Robin D. G. Kelly, Genna Rae McNeil, Shawn Smith & Tony Frere (Cortez’ sister & nephew), Quincy Troupe, Daniel Inneh, Gus John, Steve Dalachinsky, George Campbell Jr., Eugene Redmond, Rashidah Ishmaili, Manthia Diawara, Denardo Coleman, and family. The offerings were at times somber, serious, funny, and heartwarming.
The musical offerings were all brilliant. An ensemble consisting of T.K. Blue, Craig Harris, James Carter, Al MacDowell, and Denardo Coleman offered a blistering rendition of “Oleo.” Randy Weston & T. K. Blue were a revelation. The piano began almost oriental motif. Pentatonic with occasional extensions became a somber theme. It dove into its own entropy, collapsing knot a cluster of overtones, and then reassembled itself to offer a backdrop for the flute to testify. The overall unfolding was a cyclical exploration of a poem structure set to music. The duo of Tapani Damba, Saliueu Suso played and sang a Gambian piece dedicated to Cortez. Suso’s kora created a feeling of longing. Damba’s vocals were powerful and expressive. I wish I understood the words; but it was clearly a serious piece, sad yet dignified in its longing. The Firespitters’ (Al MacDowell, Denardo Coleman, Bern Nix, Rene Mclean, Bill Cole, and Roy Campbell Jr.) offering was an uptempo jazz piece indicative of their name. Brilliant performance all around!
Amiri Baraka offered a few words, then Jayne Cortez was given the final word of the event, with a video of her poem Find Your Own Voice. After this, there was nothing more to be said.
Rest in Peace, Sister Jayne. We salute you, and thank God for your life.