Personalities | Rahsaan Roland Kirk | Sixties | Jazz & Blues

(Saxophones, clarinet, flute, various invented instruments, 1936–77)

Reeds player Rahsaan Roland Kirk was one of jazz’s most colourful figures, an eccentric who developed a method for playing two or three horns simultaneously. Accidentally blinded at the age of two, Kirk taught himself to play several instruments. At 15 he joined an R&B band, and at 20 he made his first record. He modified his unusual pawn-shop horns, the manzello and stritch, with extended keys, developed the skill of circular breathing, enabling him to hold notes indefinitely, and eventually built the discipline to play two separate melodies at once.

In 1961 Kirk worked with Charles Mingus, then continued his solo career with exceptional recordings, such as Rip, Rig And Panic (1965). He regularly modified his instruments and took on the mysterious name ‘Rahsaan’ after a dream. Although partially paralyzed by a stroke at 40, Kirk kept playing his horns until his death in 1977.

Styles & Forms | Sixties | Jazz & Blues
Personalities | Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated | Sixties | Jazz & Blues

Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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