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Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Arguably the most exciting saxophone soloist in jazz history, Kirk was a post-modernist before that term even existed. Kirk played the continuum of jazz tradition as an instrument unto itself; he felt little compunction about mixing and matching elements from the music's history, and his concoctions usually seemed natural, if not inevitable. When discussing Kirk, a great deal of attention is always paid to his eccentricities -- playing several horns at once, making his own instruments, clowning on stage. However, Kirk was an immensely creative artist; perhaps no improvising saxophonist has ever possessed a more comprehensive technique -- one that covered every aspect of jazz, from Dixieland to free -- and perhaps no other jazz musician has ever been more spontaneously inventive. His skills in constructing a solo are of particular note. Kirk had the ability to pace, shape, and elevate his improvisations to an extraordinary degree. During any given Kirk solo, just at the point in the course of his performance when it appeared he could not raise the intensity level any higher, he always seemed able to turn it up yet another notch.

Kirk was born with sight, but became blind at the age of two. He started playing the bugle and trumpet, then learned the clarinet and C-melody sax. Kirk began playing tenor sax professionally in R&B bands at the age of 15. While a teenager, he discovered the "manzello" and "stritch" -- the former, a modified version of the saxello, which was itself a slightly curved variant of the B flat soprano sax; the latter, a modified straight E flat alto. To these and other instruments, Kirk began making his own improvements. He reshaped all three of his saxes so that they could be played simultaneously; he'd play tenor with his left hand, finger the manzello with his right, and sound a drone on the stritch, for instance. Kirk's self-invented technique was in evidence from his first recording, a 1956 R&B record called Triple Threat. By 1960 he had begun to incorporate a siren whistle into his solos, and by '63 he had mastered circular breathing, a technique that enabled him to play without pause for breath.

In his early 20s, Kirk worked in Louisville before moving to Chicago in 1960. That year he made his second album, Introducing Roland Kirk, which featured saxophonist/trumpeter Ira Sullivan. In 1961, Kirk toured Germany and spent three months with Charles Mingus. From that point onward, Kirk mostly led his own group, the Vibration Society, recording prolifically with a range of sidemen. In the early '70s, Kirk became something of an activist; he led the "Jazz and People's Movement," a group devoted to opening up new opportunities for jazz musicians. The group adopted the tactic of interrupting tapings and broadcasts of television and radio programs in protest of the small number of African-American musicians employed by the networks and recording studios. In the course of his career, Kirk brought many hitherto unused instruments to jazz. In addition to the saxes, Kirk played the nose whistle, the piccolo, and the harmonica; instruments of his own design included the "trumpophone" (a trumpet with a soprano sax mouthpiece), and the "slidesophone" (a small trombone or slide trumpet, also with a sax mouthpiece). Kirk suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1975, losing movement on one side of his body, but his homemade saxophone technique allowed him to continue to play; beginning in 1976 and lasting until his death a year later, Kirk played one-handed. ~ Chris Kelsey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: "Rahsaan" The Complete Mercury Recordings

Disc 1
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Disc 11

Comments

Kirk is one of the reasons I truly enjoy listening to music. From out of no where you hear Rahsaan come in blowing the ROOF of the place; simply LOVE IT!!!
Great sounds sax solo the best I have heard lots of soul there.... :o))
Rahsaan he's the Michael Jordan if the Sax. He did things that others dream of doing, what a force. I'm basis because he's my Dad. A laugh for Rory.

Rory Kirk
charlesmcurr y j r 3
RRK came to Hampton U's Music Dept and astounded us all by teaching the circular breathing technique and how he was able to play three horns at once...non-s t o p . . . W h a t I learned from him about breathing altered the course and improved the quality of my life. Peace be upon him!
Especially when the person who heard someone live gives some of their thoughts on the artist!
I love it when people say they heard/saw someone live. Brag on! Whatever!
anomalyunlim i t e d
wait, somebody noticed..... . m o n t h s ago? Is beta testing done yet, Pdora?
anomalyunlim i t e d
great and all, but Brother Jack Mc Duff and Rahsaan Roland Kirk are not the same guy! no one else noticed yet? lol
As wonderful as his recordings are, his live playing, with 30-minute solos of endless creativity, were even better. I saw him stepping from tabletop to rickey tabletop in The Village Vanguard blasting unbelievably intense, beautiful music from 3 horns at once. These are memories that last a lifetime.
plumb63
I was unfortunate enough NOT to see him in somewhere USA...
What's with the Pandora jazz bios lately? So often mixed up. This is the bio sketch of Jack McDuff linked to RR Kirk's selections. There are many other examples of these mix-ups lately -- or is just that I've begun noticing a long-term problem?
This is not the comnplete discography of Rahsaan's work, whre is Volunteer Slavery and Blacknuss, etc...?????? ? ? ? ? ?
Met Rashaan Roland Kirk at the Village Vanguard in 1978. Love this 'cut' or 'joint' as the youth say today. The words slay me, If you want to spend all day in bed with me . .. Volunteer Slavery. Wow, to be so engrossed in love making is to be a slave to the passion. Loved his totally unique approach to what he played. I am certain that his blindness had much to do with that as he heard what we who see often ignored or failed to hear.
He's awesome...I saw him live...
Why does everyone on Pandora brag about when they saw some musician live? We don't even know you. If you have some interesting story to tell, tell it, but we don't care that you saw him.
creesevernon 5 6 7
A genius in and beyond his time...
thekindling
Just heard March On, Swan Lake. Amazingly innovative and superbly rendered. Thanks!
One of the deepest ever. I saw him with Ron Carter, McCoy Tyner, and Elvin Jones in a tribute to John Coltrane. He had circular breathing which meant he didn't have to take breaths between choruses. Unbelievable player and like I said, great depth to his music.
Blacknuss! BF.
I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Kirk in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the early 70's. He "Blew" me away. He was to the Sax as Hendrix was to the Guitar.
I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR MORE RAHSAAN AT THIS STATION COULD I HEAR SOME TUNES FROM BRIGHT MOMENTS,EARL Y KIRK,AND OTHER GREAT SOUNDS OF ROLAND KIRK
in 1977 i was at a show at a campus in Philly Rashan played with Grover Washington Jr .Even though he was partly paralized on one side(only useds one hand) from a stroke he still wowed the crowd . I named one of my sons after him .I have been a fan for more than 40years.His music sounds as good as it always did.
To call his talents less than astonishing are to sell them short. His music also has that rare quality-time l e s s n e s s . Most everything by him sounds fresh as when it was recorded.
My mother used to sing us mingus and tell us to roll on with kirk and there we would find God on his pirch with Louis and Gabriel Dukin it out
I love this brother. his music is truly magical. love him on the charles mingus set. check out his take on the gospel " the old rough cross "



The most profirable, the one, bad m. I had a friend from puertorican descent call Hilton Ruiz who played with him. Hilton was my mentor here in puerto Rico. Hope he is doing better now.
buyer915
One of the absolute BEST! Truly a bright moment in the history of jazz.
folsomseattl e
MOTHERF**KER
As great as Rahsaan's musical legacy is, it cannot measure up to the enjoyment he brought to live audiances both here in the US and around the world. He was both a great musician and a great entertainer. He could work a crowd like nobody else.
And this is for what, wait a minute - I have a bright idea.
For all the people in the world who never had a bright moment.
In the tradition of jazz giants before and after him, Rahsaan Roland Kirk is a force that exerts an undeniable influence in all of jazz even today. His genius and unrestricted approach has earned him a place in the annals of jazz forever.
a unlimited force of creativity and transcendent musician!
just found heaven superb

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