By Alex Novak
Ted Jones – Self Portrait
Ted Jones was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1927. He attended Augusta Military Academy in Virginia between 1942-1944 and then joined the Army Air Corps in 1944. He became a sergeant-ECO and left after the end of World War II in 1946.
After his stint in the service, Jones traveled through Mexico, in particular through the Yucatan during 1946-1947. He then settled down to academic studies at Penn State University, where he received a BA in Journalism and Advertising with a minor in Theater and Art in 1951.
He became Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s information specialist in 1951, but then moved on quickly to television at WRC-TV, an NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C. He worked in live TV production, directing and producing shows, and worked as film editor on various NBC network news projects.
In 1954, he received the prestigious Sylvania Award for Television for the first water pollution special on television, called “Our Beautiful Potomac.” Jones also received an Emmy for his work on the cinematography and editing of the program “Urban Sprawl.” He then won a Peabody Award and Governor’s Award for producing and editing “Science in the Schools”, which was the first TV series used in public schools. Jones produced, edited and photographed “Chosen Country”, the first film on noted American author John Dos Passos, which earned him a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. His list of film and video credits also includes “I Touch the Future–I Teach”, a video production on Christa McAuliffe, the teacher-astronaut aboard the ill-fated Challenger, for the Prince George’s County School System where she first taught.
Among these many awards, he won a Special Jury Gold Medal at the Atlanta Film Festival for his time-lapse film on his own stone carving. Jones was also an accomplished sculptor, who had had seven one-man shows of this work. Over 200 of his sculptures are in private and public collections worldwide. He conducted a demonstration of stone carving on the White House grounds at the invitation of the National Park Service and the District of Columbia Government.
Ted Jones – Susan, 1999
Ted Jones – Susan, 1999
In 1960, he began work at Stuart Finley Films, Inc., where he worked as an independent film producer. The company and Jones spent the next 17 years producing films in the environmental field.
In 1977, Jones began to freelance, making videos, films and black and white photographs.
He had many picture credits, including Time, Fortune and LIFE magazines. He photographed and printed a traveling exhibition entitled “People of the Northern Neck”, which portrayed the work ethic of the watermen of historic tidewater Virginia for the Rappahannock Community College Educational Foundation.
Jones was well-known for his work in 19th-century non-silver photographic printing processes, particularly the gum-dichromatic process, but he took a contemporary approach. He even applied modern computer technology to a number of these 19th-century techniques.
A retrospective show of Jones’ gum process contemporary photographs was curated by Leif Preus of the Preus Fotomuseum, Norway, and was exhibited throughout Scandinavia during a two-year traveling show.
The work is simply astounding for its virtuosity. Jones often used multiple color passes and an artist’s brush (used to manipulate the image while still wet) to create images that often have more in common with fine art graphics than photography. Yet these images are still grounded in the world of the real, albeit often overlaid with a strong dose of fantasy.
Jones often printed in large sizes (some larger than life-size) that are very rare for this medium, which has to be worked quickly before a print dries. His images range from urban landscapes that share much with Edward Hopper’s desolate vision to portraits and nudes that that take as much from Demachy’s classicism as from Nan Goldin’s personal sociology and contemporary feel.
His photographs are in the collections of the St. Louis Art Museum, the University of New Mexico Art Museum and the James A. Michener Museum of Art. A large body of his work is in the personal collection of photography dealer Alexander Novak.
He passed away quietly at his home in Falls Church, VA on August 23, 2007.
Ted Joans, 74; Beat Poet’s Work Reflected Jazz and African Culture
Some Poems from WOW
Here are a few poems from the book, WOW. You can order WOW (signed or unsigned) here.
TED JONES POEMS
I saw Senghor
I was above him
Like a cloud
or a helicopter
but just a
At Senghor the poet
Who hovers high
Like a cloud
or a heavenly
filled with leaflets
that shame butterflies’ wings
And rainbows end
I saw Senghor
Dressed in contradiction
DON’T LET THE MINUTE SPOIL THE HOUR
for the little white poem, the big painting blue, and the swinging
music in hot red
SHE WAS HIS MUSE…YET REFUSED HIS HUMBLE BED
for a jug of wine (black), a few slices of cheese (yellow), and
a long lovely loaf of brown bread
for that she gave him money…BUT STILL REFUSED HIS BED!
for faraway trips, or making snobbish social scenes, or even
in the parks holding hands (while pigeons were fed)
SHE SAID SHE DUG HIM (to hear it bugged him) ’cause she
STILL REFUSED HIS BED!
NOW HE DON’T PAINT, NOR WRITE A POEM, NOR PLAY HIS
SWINGING MUSIC IN HOT RED
BECAUSE HE IS A B E A T N I K
AND THUS THE lovesick ARTIST IS DEAD!
OKAY, YOU ARE AFRAID OF AFRICA
…to those who live by their enslaving sword
Okay, you are afraid of Africa!
you with the long dark overcoat
” with the wide trouser cuffs
” with the Moscow autumn wind
” with the DC cracker grin
” with the rag waving pride
” with a cougar’s drop of dung
” with a thimble’s innocence near dawn
” with a plaid tablecloth’s obscenities
” with a lost mustache of wax
” with a column of Louvre trembling
” with a flabby belly of British beer
” with the blood of two kings on your boots
one living one dead
intensifying the fear you fear
the guilt you grow from year to year
May 13, 2003|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer
Joans, an expatriate Beat generation poet whose work reflected a strong black consciousness, a surrealistic sense of humor and the rhythms of avant-garde jazz, has died. He was 74.
Joans, who for many years divided his time between Paris and Timbuktu, a city in the West African nation of Mali, was found dead Wednesday in his apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. Police in Vancouver, where Joans made his home in recent years, determined that he died April 25 of complications of diabetes, said his daughter, Daline Jones-Weber.
The self-described “jazz poet” came of literary age in Greenwich Village in the 1950s, the heyday of fellow beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
Joans’ “irreverent writings” are characterized by “celebrations of sexuality, jazz music, African culture and social revolution,” according to “Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Poets Since 1955.”
“I think he’s got a place in several genres,” said Gerald Nicosia, author of the Kerouac biography “Memory Babe,” who edited “Teducation,” a 1999 collection of Joans’ poems.
“He was absolutely an important member of the beat generation and the Surrealist group,” Nicosia said.
“The French Surrealists always considered him an absolute peer.”
Indeed, Andre Breton, a French poet known as the leader of the modern movement in literature that attempts to portray the workings of the unconscious mind, once hailed Joans as “the only Afro-American Surrealist.”
Joans is also considered an important writer of the black experience, Nicosia said.
“A lot of his poems deal with racism, the problems of being black in a white society,” he said.
“Ted very consciously made an effort to connect the dots between the African experience itself with the African American experience.”
Nicosia said that poet Langston Hughes, Joans’ Greenwich Village mentor, “was a great encourager not only in his personal life, but Hughes’ poetry gave him encouragement in terms of writing about the dignity of being black and also being able to mine the richness of his black heritage.”
Joans was born Theodore Jones on July 4, 1928, in Cairo, Ill. According to some biographical accounts, his father, a riverboat musician, gave him a trumpet at age 12 and let him off the boat in Memphis to go on his own.
An amused Jones-Weber said Monday she had never heard that story before her father died, and, if true, she wondered how long he could have been on his own because he graduated from high school and went on to college.
Joans — he changed the spelling of his last name in the 1950s to set himself apart — earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from Indiana University in 1951. Then he moved to Greenwich Village.
At one point, Village Voice photographer Fred McDarrah ran a Rent a Beatnik ad as a joke and found himself getting requests for the service. So, McDarrah recruited his friend Joans, who earned rent money reading his poems at parties.
After his friend, jazz legend Charlie “Bird” Parker, died in 1955, Joans took credit for scrawling “Bird Lives” graffiti around the city.
Though best known for his poetry, Joans’ abstract portrait of Parker, “Bird Lives,” hangs in the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco.
Joans explained his decision to leave the United States in his 1961 book “All of Ted Joans and No More”: “I hate cold weather, and they will not let me live democratically in the warm states of the United States, so I’m splitting and letting America perish.”
Joans had about 30 books published by small presses, including “Jazz Poems” (1959), “The Hipsters” (1961), “Afrodisia: New Poems” (1970), “A Black Manifesto in Jazz Poetry and Prose” (1971), “Black Pow-Wow: Jazz Poems” (1969) and “Our Thang” (2001), a collection of his poems and paintings by his longtime companion Laura Corsiglia.
But most of his published works were chapbooks, small, inexpensively produced books of 20 to 30 pages.
Joans was never interested in submitting his poems to major magazines and publishing houses.
“As a poet, I cannot cash in on the system because I’m not interested in being a part of the system,” he told the Seattle Times in 1990.
In 1998, the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley purchased the first batch of Joans’ papers: 24 boxes of manuscripts, correspondence, notes and clippings.
The income was welcomed by Joans, who supported himself primarily with his writing.
To describe it even as a modest living, his daughter said, is a stretch.
“He lived a Bohemian life,” Jones-Weber said. “He was never destitute; he always had a place to live, although some of what he called his nests [in Paris] were truly nests: tiny, tiny places — 200 square feet — but filled to the brim with nothing but books, old jazz albums, paintings and some artifacts and things he collected on his travels.
“He didn’t own furniture or material things other than his clothing. But he was rich in other ways. That sounds corny, but he was blessed with many friends and fans all over the world.”
In addition to Jones-Weber of San Leandro, he is survived by nine other children: Ted Jones of Santa Monica; Teresa Jordan of Whittier; Jeanne Marie Jones of Rialto; Robert Jones of Long Beach; Lars Jones and Tor Jones of Oslo, Norway; Russell Jones of Scotland; Sylvia Jones-Johnson of Louisville, Ky., and Yvette Jones-Johnson of Stafford, Va.; and 12 grandchildren.
At Joans’ request, there will be no memorial service.