25 Jan Rahsaan Roland Kirk-Bright Moments And The Soul Of A Lion
Rahsaan Roland Kirk is one of my favorite musicians. Known for his unique ability to play several saxophones, or something akin to a saxophone, at the same time, Rahsaan made music that defied convention and explored new territory, while building on the roots and building blocks of jazz. He was blind, but his blindness allowed him to see new musical frontiers that could not be imagined back when he was in his prime. An under appreciated genius who left a large recorded legacy of music, if you are not “hip” to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, this blog post should help you get started listening to and understanding the man and his music.
Mr. Kirk’s Wikipedia entry features a terrific Discography but is very short on the specifics of his life and career….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rahsaan_Roland_Kirk
While a great introduction to Rahsaan, this Wiki entry is completely overshadowed by the amazing and fascinating book written by John Kruth, published in 2000 by Welcome Rain Publishers of New York.
Bright Moments-The Life And Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, is the definitive text on Mr. Kirk’s life and career, and what an amazing story it is. You get it all in this book, Kirk’s development as a jazz artist, his struggles as a blind man, his frustration with record companies, the nasty stroke he suffered later in life that robbed him of some of his ability. This is an astounding story and a fascinating read if you are inclined to venture in to the reality and imagination of Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Chapter Six, entitled The Black Stick, details his love of the clarinet, and of course not only does this chapter reveal a great deal about his musical roots, but it sheds light on what a studied and thoroughly well versed musician this man was. From page 69…..Rahsaan’s “first inspiration on the instrument came from listening incessantly to his mother’s Artie Shaw records, as well as a deep passion for Buster Bailey, who played with John Kirby’s band.” Kirk was a huge fan of New Orleans style clarinet, and on Page 72 he is quoted as saying, “Listen to Sydney Bechet, man. Listen to Barney Bigard. Listen to Albert Nicholas.” A man truly after my own heart!!!
To fully understand Rahsaan Roland Kirk you have to listen intently to his music. A great place to start is the fabulous two disc set on Rhino Records Does Your House Have Lions, The Rahsaan Roland Kirk Anthology. A favorite of mine from this set is Ain’t No Sunshine, the Bill Withers classic, that features one of his favorite devices……he actually sings the melody through the flute! Rahsaan claims in the book that Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull fame ripped off many his original flute devices. Upon hearing this track it’s hard not to believe him. There is so much great material on this set, and it’s chock full of the many percussion effects and vocal rants that Rahsaan was famous for. Just check out Volunteered Slavery to get the idea of this……..pushing back against the establishment, pushing hard for Civil Rights, moving the music and the Black Movement forward, that’s what this music is about. A powerful and soulful blend of many different genres, any jazz fan or listener with eclectic tastes will find things here to enjoy. In some respects the jam band genre that took root in the 1990’s can be traced back to Rahsaan’s music.
Probably the most important recording Rahsaan Roland Kirk ever made is The Case Of Three Sided Dream In Audio Color.
The relevant chapter regarding this recording can be found in the book beginning on Page 290. In seven pages you will discover how and why this, the first true jazz concept album, came into existence. I remember being thoroughly blown away by this recording when I first came across it in high school many moons ago. Created with the help of producer Joel Dorn, this recording integrated so many elements that the listener can at times be overwhelmed by its nature. Hal Wilner has this to say about The Dream on Page 292….”Dorn’s use of sound effects and montage was amazing. It created a sense of surrealism which nobody was doing at the time, especially in jazz.” Considered a masterpiece by many, Hal believes that The Dream is the “Sergeant Pepper’s Of Jazz” and will undoubtedly be better understood and appreciated by future generations.
Included on The Dream are two versions of Scott Joplin’s ragtime classic The Entertainer; here are the tenor saxophone and concert charts I adapted from the recording and use on gigs to perform this tune as a nod to Rahsaan…….they are not transcriptions but meant to be used as a guide to playing the tune jazz style, or as credited on the recording, “Done In the Style of the Blues…”The Entertainer:Concert
The Case Of The Three Sided Dream In Audio Color is a psychedelic exploration of jazz music that is one of the finest examples of what Rahsaan called Black Classical Music ever recorded. It will change your life and open your heart, mind and ears to things you’ve have not yet imagined if you are not familiar with it. Find yourself a copy and turn it up loud, and let it wash over you in a dark room. You will feel the spirit, and it will move you……
When I moved to New York City in 1990 I found this framed drawing for sale by a street artist on Broadway and 110th Street. I think I paid $5 for it then. It sits on the wall directly across from my bed, where Rahsaan can watch over me and protect me at night while I sleep. It is one of my cherished possessions.
One of the most interesting things that Rahsaan Roland Kirk dreamed up was his idea of Bright Moments. I have long been fascinated by this article that appeared in the August 15th, 1974 edition of Downbeat Magazine where Rahsaan reveals his ideas about Bright Moments…….the one I love the most is this……….
“Bright Moments was like waking up one morning and going downstairs and picking up my two horns and being able to play two different melodies at the same time and putting it on tape and hearing the results and BEING SCARED!” This is an amazing article!!!!!
RRK Downbeat Pg 1
RRK Downbeat Pg 2
The vibrations that Rahsaan Roland Kirk sent into the ether during his life continue to reverberate throughout the galaxy. A mystic, a musician, a visionary and a genius, Rahsaan Roland Kirk should never be forgotten. His contributions to jazz and his philosophies and critiques of life as a Black Man in the United States are as relevant today as they were decades ago. Go get you some Rahsaan Roland Kirk!!!