I met Ted twice – in Timbuktu (1966) and in Algiers (1969).
I remember his immortal first words – “Haben Sie Sardinen?” (I was wearing Lederhosen – he assumed I was German – and he was on the edge of the Sahara pining for sardines!)
We spent much of the next week together on the top of a lorry trying to get to Niamey – I must admit, I found a week with Ted rather trying, but he always had something new and peculiar to say.
He was very proud of his brother Leroy, and of his flat in Timbuktu. His knowledge of the local language was poor even for an American (sorry to let my national stereotypes hang out!). I recall an interesting incident in Algiers which involved booze and a rich web of people male and female; but it may be libelous so I can’t print it here.
I did not know him well, but he was clearly a man of great energy and emotion. I was sorry to have lost touhc with him, and sorry to see his obituary in “The Guardian” last week.
Fight on, Ted Joans! – I am sure you have touched many lives, not just mine.
TED JOANS LIVES!!!!!!
send me what you can…..
The piece I send you is not exactly a tribute to Ted Joans. It is part of the summer issue of a quarterly letter called The Weavers (creative writing about creative music), published both in French and in English. But the rhinoceros is part of the piece. So…
The Collected Poem for Blind Lemon Jefferson
Cape Town Shuffle
Your Life Flashes
Orange is the color of my vision. Orange was the color of her dress and the one of my vision. My heart is amber and takes place between drums and ghosts. Orange is the color of your eyes and the one of your skin. My words are orange and so are the clouds. Blind Lemon Jefferson himself, the visionary blind man, was wearing orange macaws feathers around the arms, and parrots feathers on the ears. Julius Hemphill was playing an orange fossil saxophone similar to the very moment and Ameen Muhammad was playing a blood orange trumpet under the sky’s ashes. Ted Joans thought he was a rhinoceros of a yellow verging on red — I have it from his brothers and sisters who are caravaneers in the manucured desert of cities. And this rhinoceros proclaimed and sent down in the vase of his mouth the following and astounding thing: “Jazz is my religion, Surrealism is my point of view”, “I use my senses trained by surrealism. I am Maldoror, Malcolm X, Sade, Breton, Lumumba and many others, too many for you to know them all. They are my energy, my stamina, and I will continue to use any means necessary to win my freedom that will become freedom for all.” André Breton was also thinking of you, Ted Joans, great liberator of forces, when he wrote in his “Ode to Charles Fourier”: “And if violence was nesting between his horns, all the springtime was opening out deep down his eyes.” Dear old rhinoceros, you put me in mind of Ameen Muhammad roaring with fury and delight: Freedom Ain’t Free ! You’ve got to fight to be free! I wish those who are no more in search of stories, those who are living laboriously hallucinated, were told such a thing, but that this voice rushed from deep down and devastated them, so they know that another kind of swing is waiting for them, that once again we are just about to revolutionize the completed times of revolutions.
Ted Joans, and K. Curtis Lyle with him, who speaks, speaks, never utters a word that is not glass, who dismembers, reverses and recomposes the shimmering body of Blind Lemon Jefferson, and his many imaginary lifes, his invisible images, who was associated for so long with Julius Hemphill, aka Roi Boyé the Gotham Minstrel, that his voice ended by marbling just like for the wind to vein. Together, they held the secret of talking blues and of street rap: to crack the bones of the illustrious society. I put down the equation:
Julius Hemphill K. Curtis Lyle
The visionary blind man, the sun lying flat on the chest
The tongue in rank weeds The lashing alphabet of the storm
Ted Joans, K. Curtis Lyle, and Kahari B. with them, comet on the tip of all tongues and in the solar system of Ernest Khabeer Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble, setting the facts in their true orange light, ring after ring, the truth so numerous and so lovable, and the revolving moves of passion. Your words orange, your songs orange, your voices orange, your rhythms orange — then silk blue. Kahari B., aka the Disco Poet, and his ready tongue that’s like a bars file in the ammunition depot of reality, like the flame staying in the lock and the key of the enigma: It’s not just music. In a bland bland bland world of restriction, this is the colour of revolution! I put down the equation:
Ameen Muhammad Steve Berry
Three planets rejoice
In the bronze cornloft
Air turns a golden color
I tune you, storytellers, fortune tellers: Blind Lemon Jefferson, K. Curtis Lyle, Julius Hemphill, Ernest Dawkins, Ameen Muhammad, Kahari B. and Ted Joans, Ted Joans, Ted Joans. I call on you again. Through your overcrowded shadows and your magnetic skeletons, I appeal to my son’s imagination and to the spirits who are his rattles. My memory is not coming back, no mother of pearl, it has always been scattered in the world. I have nothing else to declare than what I imagine: when we were child, we were bowling small street moons like hoops, we were smiling in such haste in the checked bodies of our dreams that we were mistaken for the perfect crime, and so on. My stories have been blurred, those that were telling where I come from, what I did live and what I didn’t, stories about ancestors I never had and who don’t come back to visit me. Griots, bluesmen, musicians and poets, storytellers storytellers storytellers who split wood of speech and stuff the world with shelters, with inhabitable countries and inhabited beings, I lodge at the sign, your sign, of the Mystery-Tree. I listen to the ones who get words out of things, among which I rest, and where we are so numerous, visionary blind men and great liberator of forces. I put down my equations one by one:
Vijay Iver Elliot Humberto Kavee
There come the three Chocolate Grinders (from Marcel Duchamp)
Set in motion at last rushing by assault
The irresistible coil of cylinders and cycles
Chris Lopes Chad Taylor
The guitar advances in the ivy
A spindle of limpidities
The game of dominoes of the bass and the percussion
Jeff, how I wish that men who battle transposed in a life which is never that daily the harmonies you open like the day that is dawning, and felt allowed to say in their turn:
Days Fly By (with Oscar)
Then Silk Blue
K. Curtis Lyle & Julius Hemphill
The Collected Poem for Blind Lemon Jefferson (IKEF 05 / www.ikefrecords.com) Lyle (poetry), Hemphill (as, fl) + Malinke Kenyatta (voc).
Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble
Cape Town Shuffle (Delmark DG-545 / www.delmark.com) Dawkins (as, ts, perc), Ameen Muhammad (tp, consh shell), Steve Berry (tb, perc), Darius Savage (b), Avreeayl Ra (dm, perc) + Kahari B (poetry).
Your Life Flashes (PI 05 / www.pirecordings.com) Aaron Stewart (ts), Vijay Iyer (p), Elliot Humberto Kavee(dm).
Like-Coping (Delmark DG-543 / www.delmark.com) Parker (elg, Korg MS-20 synthesizer), Chris Lopes (b, fl), Chad Taylor (dm, vib, g).