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“I can honestly say that Rahsaan changed my life. When I first saw him in the ‘70s [Rahsaan died in 1977, he was only 41 years old], it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen … It was like watching a hurricane on stage. The energy was far heavier than anything I was seeing in the punk rock world. Yet it took you somewhere. The contrast of anger and beauty was incredibly affecting; it had a healing effect. … After a Kirk set, I would feel that I had taken a long journey, and it left you with hope. This is what I always believed music could do, and I became obsessed with him. His records lived up to his live shows, yet they were all different.”
- Joel Dorn, producer, record executive, impresario
“No one who experienced him in performance can forget the sight: a stocky blind man swaying precariously back and forth on the lip of a bandstand, dressed in a yellow jumpsuit, his face implacable behind black wraparounds, blowing dissonant counterpoint on three saxophones of varying lengths, while other instruments, some of his own invention, dangled from his shoulders, neck, ears, and, on occasion, his nose. Talk about one-man bands.”
“By now [Roland’s 1960 Chess LP Introducing Roland Kirk], Kirk had his basic arsenal. In addition to tenor, he played an obsolete cousin to the soprano sax that he called a manzello, a straightened alto with modified keys that he called a stritch, a siren, a whistle, and a conventional flute. He found the manzello and stritch in the basement of an old instrument store and taught himself to finger two saxophones while using the third as a drone. In this way, he could play a variety of reed-section voicings and accompany his own solos with stop-time chords.”
“Kirk rejected the total immersion in protracted improvisation preached in Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz and John Coltrane's "Chasin' the Trane," but he did embody a prophetic refusal to relinquish the lusty pleasures of big bands (albeit a one-man version), swing, lilting waltzes, and nostalgic ballads, all of which he made aggressively new.”
- Gary Giddins, Visions of Jazz
Sometimes it takes the editorial staff at JazzProfiles awhile to catch up to important Jazz stuff.
In this case, I am specifically referring to Bright Moments - The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk - 2nd Ed. by John Kruth. The current edition was published in 2021, but the original edition was published in 2000 and I completely missed it. Fortunately, this brilliant biography didn’t manage to elude me for a second time.
It was masterfully reviewed upon its initial run by Jazz Jerry Musician, one of my favorite blog destinations, and this treatment also included an exclusive interview with the author John Kruth which you can locate by going here.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk [RRK] was a Jazz World unto himself.
If, as Louis Armstrong said, “Jazz is who you are,” then the music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a pure reflection of his eclectic, eccentric and exuberant personality.
In fairness, none of these descriptors do justice to Rahsaan for he was ineffable – beyond words.
But while this may be the case in terms of the best way to describe his music, RRK’s all-too-brief life [he died at the age of 41 from a second stroke] is well documented in Bright Moments - The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk - 2nd Ed.
John Kruth’s book is an easy to read story about a fascinating man. It’s written in a prose style that engages the reader in its narrative from the outset.
Here are some reviewer comments about Kruth’s RRF Bio as taken from the back of the book’s dust jacket:
PRAISE FOR JOHN KRUTH'S FIRST BOOK
BRIGHT MOMENT - The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk
"Neither poverty, blindness nor sickness could keep Rahsaan Roland Kirk from his music. But he wasn't merely a musician for music's sake. He was an activist who insisted that Black Classical Music be respected. John Kruth's remarkable book belongs on the book shelf of every serious Jazz fan."
—Ishmael Reed, author of "Mumbo Jumbo"
"Fun, insightful, well-researched, and inspirational... an incredibly accessible biography of a complex individual of staggering genius."
—Jerry Jazz Musician
"This engaging biography about an often-neglected talent will be welcomed by general readers as well as jazz scholars."
"A persuasive case that the saxophonist deserves to be reevaluated for greatness in the larger continuum of music development."
"Illuminates the one-and-only Rahsaan Roland Kirk from the outside, with a series of voices that pop like photographic flash bulbs."
-Howard Mandel, The Wire (UK)
"Like the best portraiture, Bright Moments has the spirit of its subject. It's swirling with fire, humor, audacity and surprise."
—David Hajdu, author of "Lush Life"
"Kruth has tackled one of the most fascinating figures in modern jazz and told his story in vivid detail. His research is formidable, his writing is fresh and exciting, and his enthusiasm is irresistible. Finally, someone has written a book on a jazz artist that matches the fun and verve of the music itself!"
—Ted Gioia, author of "The History of Jazz"
"Magical. John Kruth is a fantastic writer!"
And here’s the Introduction followed by the first page of the first chapter to entice you into securing your own copy of Bright Moments - The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk - 2nd Ed.
“No matter how or when you discover Rahsaan Roland Kirk, hearing his music for the first time is always a memorable and startling experience. Over the years I can count on one hand (and perhaps a couple of fingers) how often my world has been shaken by a blast of stellar music that came from out of the blue and illuminated my brain like a hydrogen flash. Like the rest of my generation, witnessing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show had an immense impact on me. Within moments my dreams of playing third base for the New York Yankees vanished and from that point on my relationship with my father was never quite the same again.
A year or two later I sat alone in my sister's room playing Bob Dylan's "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" over and over again on her pink and white Magnavox, hating the song's heartless killer William Zanzinger like I never hated anyone before, except for maybe Lee Harvey Oswald.
Then came the Rolling Stones on The Ed Sullivan Show. That thick-lipped lascivious gargoyle Mick Jagger defiantly crowed "Let's Spend the Night Together" while Brian Jones (the first multi-instrumentalist this suburban white boy ever heard) hammered the piano keys, sneering out from under a hat that looked like a swirling silver spaceship that had just landed on his head.
Not long after I witnessed the Doors down the Jersey shore. The leather-clad "Lizard King" screamed "This is the end!" and I dove into the abyss with them, headfirst. That night I sat paralyzed on my parent's manicured lawn, unable to go back in the house, knowing nothing would ever be the same again. A few months later I found myself literally hiding, crouched behind the sofa at my friend Frank's house as the Jimi Hendrix Experience melted the walls of his parent's living room. His mother cooking spaghetti in the kitchen, screamed hysterically, "Frank! Please turn down that infernal racket!"
Then came the 5000 Pound Man. The first time I heard Rahsaan I was at a friend's house when an entrancing sound drew me to his older brother's bedroom. The ice-cold tone of somebody blowin' blues on the flute sent shivers down my spine. I pushed the door open and popped my head in. "Wow!" I gushed. "Is that the new Tull album, man?" Meanwhile, Rahsaan's haunted rendition of Bill Withers lonely opus "Ain't No Sunshine" played on. My friend's big brother gave me a dry-up-and-blow-away glare as he scaled the album cover at me. It had this black-on-black hard-to-see picture of a big black guy on the front with a strange name, playing a saxophone.
"No you idiot! It's not the new Tull album! This is the guy he ripped off!" he snarled. I stared at the album cover in total disbelief. "But this guy doesn't have long hair or anything. Like I'm sure Jethro Tull would copy him!" I replied. Then my friend's older brother, Scott, dropped the needle on a track called "Which Way Is It Going," a hyper-boogie rock 'n' rollin' flute extrapolation, just to watch the look of shock wash over my face. I couldn't believe my ears! For the last four years I'd been listening to Jethro Tull, believing Ian Anderson was the reincarnation of Lord Krishna. Now before my eyes, my false idol was instantly toppled over, falling face down in the dirt. I flipped over the cover and studied the picture of this weird looking dude with two wooden flutes all stuck together with masking tape shoved in his mouth. His cheeks were all puffed out and his sunglasses had fallen down over the end of his nose. And if that wasn't freaky enough, he was dressed in a shiny black patent leather jumpsuit with a dancing lion embroidered over his heart. Then I looked at the name of the album. "Hey! They didn't even spell Blackness right!" I protested, referring to its title (B-l-a-c-k-n-u-s-s).
Suddenly "One Nation" burst through the speakers with a screaming sax and Princess Patience Burton (the eccentric wife of Ron, Kirk's pianist) singing some strange, snaky Asian blues a la Yoko Ono. At that moment, I just couldn't field the curve ball life was throwing at me. I dashed out of the room, out of the house, and all the way home. That was my introduction to Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Then a year later, in 1973,I was driving my dad's Buick into New York City, listening to WRVR when I got an earful of "Bright Moments," Pulling up to the tollbooth at the Lincoln Tunnel, I was enthralled by Kirk's hilarious rap about "sharing the same ice cream dish with your favorite love and having to take her in your arms to get it other way." He laughed at how fortunate he was "not to have to look in magazines'' in order to learn about what some people call love. Suddenly I realized this rapping pied piper Svengali was about to vanish into oblivion the moment I entered the gaping carbon-smudged mouth of that ugly old tunnel. I had to know who was doing all that talking. So, I pulled over and stopped in the breakdown lane. Rahsaan hadn't even played a note yet and I knew something seriously brilliant was on the way. Then the flute poured through my dashboard speaker, cold and delicious... like mercury or ice cream.
I was experiencing my first "Bright Moment'' when suddenly there came a loud, hard, sobering knock on my window. The man in blue was standing there, wanting to know what the trouble was. "No trouble at all officer," I told him, floating on the Bella Donna clouds of melody and joy. I explained to the officer that there was something very important on the radio that I had to hear and if I drove off into the tunnel, I'd surely lose the signal. I promised I'd be gone in just a minute or two. But the fuzz couldn't have cared less and insisted I move the car immediately! I rolled up the window and pulled up about ten or twelve feet. That flute was dancing across the keys of that piano like Bojangles Robinson sliding down a long golden banister with a nose full of blow on Mardi Gras Day while somebody kept clanging a triangle like it was dinnertime at the New York Philharmonic chuck wagon. Then came another knock on my window and the party was over. Just as I reached the tunnel, I heard the DJ say, "Bright Moments! That was Rahsaan Roland Kir..."
THE REVENGE OF THE 5OOO LB. MAN
"Hang it up, take it down, hang it up, take it down.
Don't misinterpret it for no clown, because it's the straight-ahead truth going down."
“It's easy to see how most people got the wrong idea when it came to Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He just didn't fit very neatly into anyone's concept of reality. It's not everyday someone like him comes careening down the pike, glowing with the pure spark of originality.
At the height of his powers, "Rahsaan" as he later became known, stood on the edge of the bandstand, rocking in rhythm, eyes hidden mysteriously behind a pair of wrap-around shades. Decked out like a psychedelic African shaman in a striped dashiki, sweat busting from every pore, Kirk played three saxophones simultaneously.
He was truly a sight to behold with his nostrils flaring like a mad bull and his cheeks puffed-out like a monstrous chipmunk, pumping air continuously into a strange array of instruments that hung from his body like crazy plumbing or tangled octopus tentacles, all stuck together with masking tape.
The uninitiated often felt they had witnessed a supernatural one-man Vaudevillian freak show. Perhaps in comparison to the cool understatement of Miles Davis or the tuxedoed elegance of the Modern Jazz Quartet, they had. But from this unlikely mass of auditory armor Kirk coaxed and evoked the entire history of jazz (or "Black Classical Music" as he preferred calling it).”