Ted Joans was born Theodore Jones on July 4, 1928 on a riverboat in Cairo, Illinois. His father, a riverboat entertainer, put him off the boat in Memphis at age twelve and gave him a trumpet. He is a painter, a trumpeter, and a jazz poet. His jazz poems are collected in a book called “Black Pow-Wow.” He earned a degree in Fine Arts from Indiana University, and in 1951 joined “the Bohemia of Greenwich Village, USA.” He has since recited his poems in coffeehouses in New York and in the middle of Saraha Desert. He has lived in Harlem, New York, Bloomington, Indiana, Haarlem, the Netherlands, and even Timbuktu. His books include:
- Funky Jazz Poems
- Beat Poems
- All of T.J. and No More
- The Truth
- The Hipsters (a book of collages)
- The Truth
- A Black Pow Wow of Jazz Poems
His work is characterized by black nationalism, or a black consciousness, a strong rhythm, and a musical language and sensibility closely linked to the blues and most importantly to best of the avant-garde jazz. His style is associated with the oral tradition of African-American writing but also to the Beat Generation. Joans, along with Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka began their poetic careers in the artistic haven of Greenwich Village in the late fifties and early sixties. Joans, though, has expanded his work and embraced more serious jazz-inflected sounds, and Black Power.
Read one of his poems, ‘The Sax Bit,’ here.
Ted Joans died at his home in Vancouver on April 25, 2003.