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Rahsaan Roland Kirk
August 7, 2007 4:30 AM   Subscribe

Even if you're one of those "I don't like jazz" folks, the iconoclastic multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1936-1977) is probably someone you can dig. For one thing, he wasn't afraid of using a fat backbeat, more akin to soul/R&B than most of the jazz of his time. And how can you say no to a guy who passed out little flutes to his audience members, inviting them to join in, saying "What about a blues in W, in the key of W". Or who played 3 or 4 horns at once, followed by a nose-flute solo? God bless you, Rahsaan Roland Kirk. [more inside]
posted by flapjax at midnite (50 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's something up on UbuWeb, a film called "Sound?" which intersperses John Cage reciting with various footage of Rahsaan. The Cage footage interjections are a little jarring, somehow, and perhaps a little irritating in this context, but this film is certainly worth viewing nonetheless. Included in this film is some of the footage you've seen in the first link of this FPP (under the first Rahsaan). If you were intrigued by the passing out of flutes in that "blues in the key of W" clip, this film continues where that clip left off. Plus Rahsaan plays for animals at the zoo!

There's plenty more on the great musician out there on the nets, so if you've got any particular faves or recommendations, please add 'em!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:34 AM on August 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


*passes Flappers 3 nose-flutes to be played through 2 nostrils*
posted by Wolof at 4:41 AM on August 7, 2007


I've had blues in the key of W for about 6 years now.
posted by chillmost at 4:46 AM on August 7, 2007 [4 favorites]


*passes Flappers 3 nose-flutes to be played through 2 nostrils*

Hmmm... okay, I'm gonna do my best for ya, Wolof!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:56 AM on August 7, 2007


Rhino's 2-disc Kirk collection is a good place to go from here. Their product page has samples for each track.
posted by grabbingsand at 5:07 AM on August 7, 2007


Holy fuck that breakbeat link is awesome.
posted by Lord_Pall at 5:39 AM on August 7, 2007


Rahsaan, Rahsaan. Brings back great memories. He could put on a show. His circular-breathing ability was amazing especially on pieces like Saxophone Concerto.

Thanks for reminding us, Flapjax.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:54 AM on August 7, 2007


Word. "Volunteered Slavery" is one of my favourite songs, period.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:58 AM on August 7, 2007


One of very few jazz musicians to do interesting things with the english horn & the musette.
posted by memexikon at 6:05 AM on August 7, 2007


Wow, I've never heard of this guy before. He is amazing. Thanks for the post. Being exposed to interesting things I'd otherwise be oblivious to is why I come to metafilter.
posted by subtle_squid at 6:21 AM on August 7, 2007


I read some story somewhere, probably in some liner notes, that what he really wanted to do was play football. But he was blind.
Thanks for these links.
posted by creasy boy at 6:33 AM on August 7, 2007


Ha! In that Quincy Jones link he quotes My Favorite Things around 3:19 and it sounds just like Coltrane.
posted by creasy boy at 6:36 AM on August 7, 2007


That was nice. Ahhhhhh.
posted by srboisvert at 6:36 AM on August 7, 2007


I love that nutty bastard!
posted by horsemuth at 6:41 AM on August 7, 2007


If I remember right, he did some awesome stuff with Brother Jack McDuff.
posted by ph00dz at 6:42 AM on August 7, 2007


I don't think you linked Serenade to a cuckoo...very pretty song, unfortunately his performance is pretty restrained in this clip. I was hoping he'd be spitting gibberish around his flute, but no.
posted by creasy boy at 7:07 AM on August 7, 2007


Excellent post, flapjax at midnite - thanks!
I Say a Little Prayer live 1969. Note the chicken foot on his hat.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:17 AM on August 7, 2007


dime users : there's a swedish 75 concert up and running here.
posted by nicolin at 7:19 AM on August 7, 2007


MJJ! That one's under my Kirk link! Now you gotta go find another link to put into this thread! ;-)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:28 AM on August 7, 2007


ah yes. had a jazz instructor get me into him in high school. interesting fella and a crazy bastard. as i recall, he was blind and could do the whole circular breathing thing. i remember thinking it sounded like he was made for music.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:47 AM on August 7, 2007


As far as the crazy jazz bastards go, if you pick up Oh Yeah by Charles Mingus, you basically get two for the price of one--Kirk was part of Mingus' band at the time.
posted by LionIndex at 7:59 AM on August 7, 2007


I heard a recording of The Inflated Tear when I was 14 years old and it completely blew me away. I had never heard music so full of longing and terror before.

Come to think of it, I wonder if I have since.
posted by felix betachat at 8:01 AM on August 7, 2007


Perfection. Thank you for this post.
posted by blucevalo at 9:00 AM on August 7, 2007


Rahsaan is my favorite musician of all time! Great post, Flapjax!Rhino issued a VHS video some years ago of Rah's entire set at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 1972. Called "The One Man Twins", it is sadly out of print and almost impossible to find on the web. I used to play it at parties in college and watch people's amazement when I told them that the wildman playing 2 saxes and a nose flute simultaneously was actually blind.
posted by skammer at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2007


Yeah yeah, playing a bunch of instruments at once is a nice trick but does it sound any good...oh...never mind then... Awesome.
posted by biscotti at 9:22 AM on August 7, 2007


"Spirits Up Above" (the track after Volunteered Slavery on Volunteered Slavery) is definitely in the greatest songs of all time.
posted by mike_bling at 9:36 AM on August 7, 2007


aha, you're a tricky one mr. flapjax - hiding those links like that.

OK, I was hunting around for some footage of him with Zappa (I would love to hear that) but no go. How 'bout I Eye Aye? Google video with 48 minutes and I am only 15 minutes into it, but so far quite glad you sent me back on assignment ;-)
posted by madamjujujive at 9:40 AM on August 7, 2007


I should have added, thanks for your great commentary - this post that offers something to jazz tiros and sophisticates alike. There are no posts I like better than posts from someone who is a passionate topic expert.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:46 AM on August 7, 2007


Wow, I didn't realize how young he died. Maybe it's because he took as many breaths as a 100-year-old.
posted by klangklangston at 10:05 AM on August 7, 2007


> OK, I was hunting around for some footage of him with Zappa

Now that would be a worthy youtube link! Best of luck in your quest. Never despair, it's probably taking up space on somebody's HD right now, just waiting for them to get off their butts and upload it.
posted by jfuller at 10:33 AM on August 7, 2007


RRK covers Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine" (mp3 clip).
posted by liam at 10:52 AM on August 7, 2007


Rahsaan seems to have played twice with FZ (1/31/69 Boston, 6/29/69 Miami). There is a picture in the "bright moments" biography of RRK (which isn't that bright, btw), but as for today no recordings whatsoever have surfaced. I'd love to hear any document of these jams.
posted by nicolin at 11:39 AM on August 7, 2007


Saw him many times - including, as I probably mentioned here before, at the Mingus at Carnegie Hall concert. He was always amazing. You could take all his other instruments away and just hear him on tenor sax, and you'd still know this was a musician in a million.
posted by QuietDesperation at 12:46 PM on August 7, 2007


I LOVE RRK! Thank you thank you thank you for posting this.

He was a most amazing man. Would regularly invent his own instruments, and then go on to play them 2 or 3 at a time! Even after his stroke in the 70s, he continued to play, modifying his style after he lost much of the use of one side of his body.

Now THERE was a man with soul.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:08 PM on August 7, 2007


I've had blues in the key of W for about 6 years now

I think all of W's songs are in the key of F minus.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk is one of those names that's floated around the edges of my conciousness for a long time, but who I'd never stopped to listen to. Thanks for this post -- I'll be digging deeper.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:37 PM on August 7, 2007


My brother and I were listening to Rahsaan Roland Kirk on a car trip a while back, to some of the really out there stuff, and my brother said, "there's a lot of drug-fueled music, but this is the stuff that only comes from not having done drugs ever in your life."

I have no idea whether or not that's true, but I like to think it is. In any event, drugs or no, this post is great.
posted by Hadroed at 3:28 PM on August 7, 2007


Awesome post. Way too many years ago, as a 13 year old kid who played the saxophone in Jazz band, I idolized people like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, and Sam Rivers among others. These were people who heard different things than the rest of us, and were able to describe it to us in a manner. I sometimes wonder if they kept making albums and doing concerts not only because they love doing it, but that they were also driven to continually try to explain to us what they hear, and not quite getting there in their opinion. Amazing, amazing people.
posted by Eekacat at 8:02 PM on August 7, 2007


My brother and I were listening to Rahsaan Roland Kirk on a car trip a while back, to some of the really out there stuff, and my brother said, "there's a lot of drug-fueled music, but this is the stuff that only comes from not having done drugs ever in your life."

I have no idea whether or not that's true, but I like to think it is. In any event, drugs or no, this post is great.
posted by Hadroed at 3:28 PM on August 7 [+] [!]


Well, you'd be wrong. And I don't say this to impugn the man or his memory--I think he was one of the truly amazing talents of all time.

Saw him many, many times from 70-74. One highlight was from a tour around 70 and I saw this type of occurance more than once. It was at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago when the Showcase was in the basement on Rush Street. Think of a "Cheers" type situation--swanky club upstairs, Joe Segal's bar & jazz club in the basement.

The club was packed with bohos, hipsters, hippies, Rahsaan fans and jazz fans. Rahsaan was able to bring together crowds of a wide stripe.

After a particularly rousing segment (I think RRK had just played his self-duet with Dvorak's New World Symphony and Ellington's Sentimental journey) and a hippie kid in the front row lights up a fattie--and sort of half offers it up to Rahsaan. Rahsaan may have been blind but he picked up on the scent and his hand shot out, grabbed the joint and he totally whomped on that sucker in one huge inhalation and handed back the puny little stub to the kid.

RRK exhaled and made some comment about "next time bring the good stuff" and the band and the crowd all fell out. From that point on, the entire club seemed like a ganj fest, and many more joints wound up on the bandstand.

Again, the reason I tell this is so that you and your brother don't demonize a little recreational pot in the service of fine music.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:20 AM on August 8, 2007


And that kid grew up to be Paul Harvey.

Now you know "The Rest of the Story."
posted by klangklangston at 9:27 AM on August 8, 2007


I asked the nice folks at Kill Ugly Radio if they had any clips or info on Zappa and RRK playing together. They were nice enough to send the following info.

A little check at KUR's wiki turned up this page which has some more info. There you'll find a quote from The Real Frank Zappa Book, stating:

"The first time we played with Rahsaan Roland Kirk was at the 1968 Boston Globe Jazz Festival. After his performance, when introduced to him backstage, I said I really liked what he was doing, and said that if he felt like joining us onstage during our set, he was more than
welcome. In spite of his blindness, I believed we could accommodate whatever he wanted to do. We began our set, wending our atonal way toward a medley of 1950s-style honking saxophone numbers. During this fairly complicated, choreographed routine, Rahsaan, assisted by his helper (can't remember his name), decided to join in. In 1969, George Wein, impresario of the Newport Jazz Festival, decided it would be a tremendous idea to put the Mothers of Invention on a jazz tour of the East Coast. We wound up working in a package with Kirk, Duke Ellington and Gary Burton in Miami at the Jai Alai Fronton, and at another gig in South Carolina."


To see which venues were played by the MOI in '69, with Kirk being one of the other acts, check this page.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:07 AM on August 8, 2007


Again, the reason I tell this is so that you and your brother don't demonize a little recreational pot in the service of fine music.

I never meant to imply that drugs can't be used in the service of fine music. I've got absolutely no beef there, and sorry if my comment made me sounds like a DARE zealot.
What I was trying to get at is that sometimes people make weird music because of the drugs, and sometimes people make weird and amazing music because they're tuned into a different wavelength of the universe than the rest of us mere mortals.
I couldn't care less if RRK's muse was the pipe or Radio Free Albemuth, the man was doing something right.
posted by Hadroed at 11:35 AM on August 8, 2007


I see that Barry's Imaginary Publisher was kind enough to post a query on Kill Ugly Radio and a few people have commented. Zappa fans should keep an eye on that thread - maybe more info or long-hidden clips will surface!
posted by madamjujujive at 2:52 PM on August 8, 2007


Three or four (unreleased) tapes from the sixties and early 70's just popped up on dime.
posted by nicolin at 1:43 AM on August 9, 2007


God bless you, Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

And you too, flapjax, for posting this. About a month ago I was touring Kirk videos on YouTube, but missed the fantastic Pedal Up because it's classified under Down Beat, not his name.

he wasn't afraid of using a fat backbeat, more akin to soul/R&B

This is probably why my favorite of the 15 or so Kirk LPs I have is Blacknuss, where he does such amazing things with such familiar songs (like Ain't No Sunshine).

One thing left out of the discussion so far is the fact, mentioned here, that Kirk was brought to public attention thanks to the (what might seem unlikely) support of pianist Ramsey Lewis, who in the mid-60s was so popular he actually placed jazz songs like The In Crowd near the top of the pop charts.

When I first saw Kirk (a few years before he dreamed up, literally, the name Rahsaan). I was a freshman at Duke and he was opening for Lewis's trio (which then included drummer Maurice White, soon to go off and form Earth, Wind, & Fire). I was, needless to say, amazed and astounded, and went backstage afterwards to seek him out. We were having an animated discussion about something or other when the president of the college jazz society, one of those square annoying seniors, appeared and said it was time to go.

"Come with us," Kirk told me, wanting to continue our talk, but the prez didn't want me horning in on his chance to hang out alone with the star. As we moved out to his car, he insisted there was no room for me, especially since the back seat was filled with equipment cases and amps. "See?" he started to say, but as he paused, remembering that Kirk couldn't see, Roland just crawled into the back and lay down across two amps. "Go on, get in," he told me, and off we went.

We drove out of town to a crummy little motel on the black side of town — this was the South 40 years ago — and Kirk asked me to come in with him, so I could walk him around the room explaining where everything was. Then we left him alone in the night.

(I was talking at a party last week with a good friend of the great, also blind, New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, who I also once enjoyed sitting and talking with after a show, and she expressed amazement that he, like Kirk that night, fearlessly and continually travels America by himself, in order to perform.)

About eight years after that, I was in NYC at some place (the Village Vanguard?), and near the end of his set Kirk, in the middle of some rousing tune, decided to start marching around the club. People frantically pulled tables and chairs out of the way, as I guess he knew they would, and he paraded blindly around the place until he came to where we sat. At which point he dropped down in the empty chair next to me, leaned in my direction with his saxophone, and played a few choruses. Then he got up again and moved back to the stage.

Probably just a coincidence, but I always wondered if somehow he knew it was me, and he was just saying thanks for orienting him that night in the motel in North Carolina.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:34 AM on August 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


this is the stuff that only comes from not having done drugs ever in your life.

I couldn't care less if RRK's muse was the pipe or Radio Free Albemuth, the man was doing something right.


No matter what the case, in the liner notes for his album The Inflated Tear, Kirk is quoted as saying, "When I die I want them to play The Black and Crazy Blues [first cut on the record], I want to be cremated, put in a bag of pot and I want beautiful people to smoke me and hope they get something out of it."
posted by LeLiLo at 10:39 AM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


What marvelous stories, lelilo - thanks for adding them. What a privilege to have had such an interesting brush with this amazing man.

As for Henry Butler, I just saw him up in Maine at a blues fest. He is astoundingly good. He was in a "piano blowout" with two other fine performers, Barrelhouse Chuck and Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne - there was no question but that Butler owned the stage. It was fun watching the backup musicians trying to keep up with his improvisations. And as you said, he was wandering all over the stage and backstage unescorted.
posted by madamjujujive at 1:12 PM on August 9, 2007


Yes, lelilo, thanks so much for your engaging remembrances.

Thanks also for the Henry Butler link: I hadn't yet heard of him. Four of his tunes can be heard here, at Butler's MySpace Music page.

And Maurice White drummed for Ramsey Lewis? Damn, didn't know that, either!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:58 PM on August 9, 2007


fixed that Henry Butler link for you mr.flapjax.

I checked on YouTube and to my elation, there are 3 clips of Butler from that festival I talked about:
Henry Butler 1
Henry Butler 2
Piano Blowout - butler, Barrelhouse Chuck and Kenny Blues Boss Wayne

Lucky me, I was sitting in row 2 midway between Barrelhouse Chuck and Henry Butler.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:36 PM on August 9, 2007


OK, are any of you RKK fans still out there reading this thread? Kattullus just made a mefi post linking to an amazing YouTube jazz collection that includes many vintage RRK clips. It demands a cross post so RKK fans can find these clips, which could be overlooked in a search since they are posted under "Rahssand."

Many other musical wonders in the collection - seriously good stuff, go there now!
posted by madamjujujive at 2:13 PM on August 17, 2007


Thanks, mjj! Saw your comment there in the jazz collection thread. Excellent cross-posting!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:17 PM on August 17, 2007


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