Jayne Cortez, a no-nonsense poet who often declaimed her incisive lines of vivid imagery tying fierce social criticism to imperatives of personal responsibility with backing by her band the Firespitters, died Dec. 28 at age 76. Her deep appreciation of American blues and jazz was another of her constant themes; her son Denardo Coleman played drums in the Firespitters, with whom she recorded six albums.
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.
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