Rahsaan Roland Kirk / Aug 7, 1935 - Dec 5, 1977

One of my heroes, Rahsaan Roland Kirk brought a playful humor and inspired work ethic to some serious blues & bop chops. A man who could play THREE saxophones at the same time with a nose flute and bells around his ankles, but could really play a solo with the best. It is no secret that he was one of Jimi Hendrix's all time favorites: in fact as Jimi was blowing up big, he was found playing in Kirk's group one never-recorded weekend at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. (Hendrix said that Kirk told him to turn his volume UP).

From Columbus OH, Kirk became blinded as a child. He learned several instruments (trumpet, bugle, clarinet, C-melody sax, tenor sax) and was gigging on professional R&B gigs by age 15. Around this time he started playing and modifying obscure instruments like the saxello and the stritch. He adapted these instruments to fit his needs and built some of his own as well. He made his first record (Triple Threat) in '56, which immediately showcased his three-horn approach.

He did a stint in Louisville in the mid-'50s before moving to Chicago. He continued cutting his leader sessions while also joining the Charles Mingus group for a several-month stay, including a tour of Europe in '61. By '63 he learned circular breathing and his inclusion of "little instruments" (such as bells and whistles), as well as his wide-ranging grasp of the history of Afro-American music no doubt influenced the Art Ensemble of Chicago, who would appear on the scene a few short years later. Kirk's music equally took in swing, bop, blues, New Orleans, classical, avant-garde, free jazz, gospel, soul-jazz, bossa nova, ragtime, pop and comedy. (In fact, young Jay Leno once toured with him as his opening act).

He rarely appeared as a sideman (Mingus, Roy Haynes, Quincy Jones, Jaki Byard, Tubby Hayes were among the very few), but he did have a couple of gigs playing as part of the Mothers of Invention. Kirk recorded a few dozen incredible albums during his lifetime for labels like King, Argo, Prestige, Mercury, Limelight, Verve, Atlantic and Warners, with many, many more collections, unreleased and live albums coming since his death. Even his '70s material, after bad strokes, were still great entertainment and testament to driving will & spirit, despite the use of only one arm. He was a great showmen, and the documentary Sound (1966) about him and John Cage is an incredible view.

"Bright moments! Bright moments is like making love on a leaky waterbed at the Holiday Inn." - Rahsaan Roland Kirk

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