Label: Atlantic - SD 2-303 0698 • Format: 2x, Vinyl LP, Compilation • Country: US • Genre: Jazz • Style: Contemporary Jazz
But how could we not be? Who would not be mesmerized by the sight of a man in a towering fur hat, wraparound shades and a long caftan, with three saxophones, a flute, a clarinet, a whistle and a siren hanging from his neck-instruments that he often played two or three at a time, sometimes 10 or 20 minutes at a time, thanks to his circular breathing?
And when he stuck a wooden flute in his right nostril and played a melody on it-oh, man, fuhgeddaboutit. He knew perfectly well how eccentric he appeared onstage and did little to tone it down, for he realized that his theatricality attracted attention in a competitive environment. Just think of Dolly Parton, whose blonde-bombshell routine made her famous but obscured the brilliance of her songwriting.
Think of Sun Ra. But it has complicated the assessment of his proper place in jazz history. Is he a curious footnote like the bagpipe-playing Rufus Harley? Or is he a major figure like his one-time employer Charles Mingus?
Or something in between? Instead his profile keeps rising. The reissues keep coming; his compositions are still being performed and recorded.
It felt much the same way those Hendrix records felt, that he was blowing the rules wide open and was just playing music. In my Lullaby (Album Version) - Shawn Mullins - Lullaby it seemed that Rahsaan and Hendrix came from the same far-off planet-like superheroes.
His new solo album, Mutopia Compassshowcases his own approach to double-horn playing. Rahsaan used to tap on the keys of his flute to get a percussive sound, so I tried that on my tenor saxophone. We used to go up to his hotel room and listen to records in the dark. It made me concentrate on the sound. His shows were unconventional, but only because he was being himself.
He moves to manzello his customized adaptation of the saxello, itself an adaptation of the straight soprano sax for a long solo spiced by squealing bursts from his siren whistle. Each of these five instruments adds a new surprise to the piece, but behind each surprise is an idea.
I knew him well, and it really hurt his feelings when people would say that playing three horns was just a gimmick. Because he was playing some heavy music on those horns. Any new musical technique-whether it is the electric guitar, saxophone dissonance or the musical saw-seems Decipher It - Anacron - We Smile!
(The Anacron EPs) gimmick when it first appears. No one thinks of electric guitar and saxophone dissonance as novelties anymore, because too much great music has been made with them. The musical saw, by Ive Got A Heart - Tom Jones - Whats New Pussycat?, still seems a gimmick, because the instrument has yet to find the genius who might unleash its possibilities.
But because such practices were disdained they were also free from expectations, and Kirk, like Christian and Coltrane before him, could write his own rules in the absence of any precedents.
In other words, the very weirdness of the techniques was not incidental to the La Funcion Va A Comenzar - Los Gabytos - La Funcion Va A Comenzar. innovations, but served as the door through which the breakthroughs walked.
The whole bebop generation went through that. Whenever someone comes out with something else, the new movement is belittled by people who are doing what they think should be done. But any movement that comes along has something to offer. They were not extraneous additions to his playing; they were at the core of his sound from the beginning. In the summer ofBarkan was an 8-year-old white kid on a Columbus, Ohio city bus, traveling by himself to a minor-league baseball game.
He noticed that in the backseat of the bus, an year-old black kid Fertig - Various - Göttingen playing tenor saxophone, apparently in a duet with the bus engine.
Fearlessly curious in the way that only pre-pubescent children can be, Barkan walked back and asked the teenager who he was and what he was doing. The older kid said he was Ronnie Kirk-it was only later, early in his professional career, that he became Roland Kirk, and only in that he announced his final name change with the album Rahsaan Rahsaan.
We would spend a day listening to tenor Three For The Festival - Rahsaan Roland Kirk* - The Art Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk - The Atlantic Years , so I would learn what they sounded like. Then a day listening to alto saxophonists.
This was my Jazzbut it was done in a non-pedantic way. Kirk had been blind from infancy, but his mother Gertrude made a point of making him as independent as possible. She encouraged him to travel on his own and to pursue his music without fear. Though she died when she was 36, she instilled such pride in her son that he often bristled at Three For The Festival - Rahsaan Roland Kirk* - The Art Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk - The Atlantic Years slight.
Though he was blind, he loved to go as a teenager to the Gaetz Music Store in Columbus and have the owner pull out strange instruments and describe them. This created a pattern that would continue the rest of his life.
Kirk was always picking up unlikely instruments and bending them to his will. Jimmy Heath remembers the time he received a shakuhachi, a Japanese wooden flute, as a present from his brother Tootie.
On a tour inKirk brought along a conch shell and Turre kept waiting to see how the bandleader would use it. It just hung from his neck, untouched, for several dates. But one night, when some drunks were being disruptive during the show, Kirk picked up the shell and held a note with circular breathing for four minutes until everyone eventually noticed and fell silent.
I know one thing: Dizzy liked it; Art Blakey liked it. Woody Shaw liked it. You were like a mascot, not a customer. The other stuff was an important part of his presentation but it was to some extent window dressing. The challenge in giving Rahsaan his proper due as a mainstream jazzman often gets lost in the cloud of discussion about his multi-instrumental virtuosity. Early in his career especially, Kirk proved his mainstream discipline and chops by recording not only Three For The Festival - Rahsaan Roland Kirk* - The Art Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk - The Atlantic Years Mingus but also Quincy Jones, Roy Haynes and Jaki Byard.
Both men were too fond of introducing political commentary and dissonance into their music to be fully trusted by the boppers, and too fond of quoting Duke Ellington, Lester Young and Jelly Roll Morton to be fully trusted by the radicals. Jim would get him a taxi and call me to tell me approximately what time his bus would get back to Jersey.
He played the whole history of the music, but it was never cloning, it was never mimicry; it was always Rahsaan. But that put the seal of approval on the flute as a cool instrument and on singing through it as a technique. Three For The Festival - Rahsaan Roland Kirk* - The Art Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk - The Atlantic Years brought back that earthiness, that gritty, subversive quality to an elegantly designed artifact.
It allowed me to make the flute something that could stand up next to Clapton and Hendrix. Anderson actually got to meet Kirk at the Newport Jazz Festival. I must have rewound that clip a hundred times. But several of his compositions have entered the canon. Everyone from Grover Washington Jr. It almost sounds like a field holler, and yet it allows you to do all kinds of rhythmic and harmonic things with it.
But if it touches the heart, it will last. Why do you think people still care about Ray Charles? Because he touched people-country people, rock people, jazz people were always touched by Ray. The same is true of Rahsaan. Intwo days before Thanksgiving, Kirk suffered a massive stroke at his New Jersey home that left the whole right side of his body paralyzed. He had the keys of his horns refitted so he could play one, even two horns, with only his left hand. A little more than two years later he died in Indiana while on tour.
He was The high ceilings were painted a dark blue and dotted with clouds and stars; the stage was surrounded by a striped satin canopy. His right arm hung limply, but his left arm compensated by darting around his chest, playing first his tenor, then the manzello or stritch, then his new L-shaped flute that he could play one-handed. I was a year-old kid, just beginning a music journalism career, and I was easily distracted by the vaudeville aspects. It was only later that I learned to shut my eyes, to shut out the distractions and listen to the music without worrying about how it was made.
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