Saturday, June 04, 2005

Does Your House Have Lions? Remembering Rahsaan Roland Kirk

I just sat down to take a second look at Taylor Hackford's film Ray starring Jamie Foxx and as the opening credits started to roll and the music began to chug along, I had to pause the DVD to write what I remembered about this other blind prodigy that cut records with Atlantic Records (Charles' label for a minute). His name was Rahsaan Roland Kirk...

A few years ago I working on a project that was supposed to tie-in with this project that Joel Dorn was working on... the assignment went away but I was already hooked on some of the music and artists I'd discovered while digging around. It was at this time that I'd started learning more and more about Rahsaan Kirk, whom Dorn used to champion back when he was just a DJ back at this small radio station back in Philly -- I just couldn't stop. As it happened, Dorn eventually went on to work at Atlantic Records as an assistant (see the connection?) and would then move on to become a producer helming influential records by Roberta Flack, Keith Jarrett and Bette Midler among many others -- backtracking on Dorn's work, lead me to Rahsaan and I've been thankful every since...

Rahsaan Roland Kirk was born on 8/7/1936 in Columbus, Ohio. Although he lost his sight at the age of two, Kirk began to formally pursue music as a child at the Ohio School for the Blind; he'd eventually learn to master over 40 instruments...

Moving to New York City in 1960, Kirk began to play with the Charlie Mingus Band. Then a virtual unknown, this gig introduced the saxophonist to the mainstream jazz audiences in the U.S. and abroad. After touring Europe with Mingus, Kirk moved on to lead an ensemble of his own, “the Vibration Society.” In addition to Charles Mingus' outfit Rahsaan cut records with people like Jaki Byard, Ron Haynes, Quincy Jones, Snooky Young, Eric Dolphy, Hank Jones, Bobby Scott, Clark Terry, Al Hibbler, Ron Carter, Steve Gadd, Hugh McCracken, Habao Texidor, Percy Heath, Art Taylor, Hank Jones, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Kelly, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Grady Tate, Alice Coltrane, Pepper Adams and Cornell Dupree. (in no specific order; I thought I'd put some names down JIC you felt like Googling some other "Phat Cats of Jazz" that Roland collaborated with. Back in the day, some jazz "purists" used to hate on RRK on the whisper because he played outside the para-digg'em-- they did the same thing to Miles when he "plugged in" and cut Bitches Brew and then decades later when he infused hip-hop into jazz on Do-Bop. Like Davis, Rahsaan was outspoken on racial issues and not only wrote tunes about it, he'd talk truth to power on issues between songs when he played which the wisacres might've found too aggressive -- I've said it before: heroes often eat their breakfasts alone...

At the bottom of this piece, I've posted a discography -- everything I could find that Kirk has out there on vinyl/ CDs -- check out some of the titles (dude was definitely getting his information from between the raindrops). If you've never heard the his sound and really want to get a proper start -- some of his records are "out there," kid -- I'd recommend pinching these five LPs first; I, Eye, Aye: Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival, The Inflated Tear, Does Your House Have Lions: The RRK Anthology, and Oh Yeah which dude cut with Charles Mingus. All of these plates are tight, Kirk's body of work is a true testament to what people can do when they don't believe when others tell them something can't be done...just take a look...scoodlee wow-wow-wow (finger snaps all around)...Laters...

-- Rahsaan Roland Kirk Timeline --

1960>> Roland Kirk debuts on the jazz scene with Introducing Roland Kirk. It features saxophonist/trumpeter Ira Sullivan. Shortly after, he moves to New York City and begins to sit in with Charlie Mingus’ band.

1961>> Kirk’s Work is released, and Roland joins Charlie Mingus’ band, ultimately going on a European tour with the ensemble. Kirk signs with Mercury Records when he returns and submits We Free Kings.

1962>> Signing on with Verve Records, Kirk records and releases Domino.

1963>> Mercury releases both Reeds & Deeds and the live album Kirk In Copenhagen.

1964>> Roland Kirk Meets The Benny Golson Orchestra and Gifts And Messages are released. They are the last recordings the artist makes with Mercury.

1965>> Kirk releases three albums in the same year, Here Comes The Whistleman (Atlantic) and Slightly Latin and Rip, Rag And Panic (Limelight).

1967>> After years without releasing an album with new material, Kirk releases three new EPs on three different labels: Funk Underneath (Prestige), Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith (Verve), and the highly acclaimed The Inflated Tear (Atlantic).

1968>> Atlantic releases Left And Right.

1969>> Kirk’s protest work yields Volunteered Slavery, which addresses his political stance on the discriminatory and exploitative aspects of the jazz music industry. To that end, Kirk's organization, the Jazz and People’s Movement, voiced these topics through activism and protests.

1970>> Atlantic releases Kirk’s newest contribution, Rahsaan/Rahsaan. Additionally, Kirk has a violent confrontation on a nationally syndicated talk show.

1971>> Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata and Blacknuss are both released on Atlantic.

1972>> Atlantic releases two of Kirk’s works, A Meeting Of The Times and I, Eye, Aye: Live At Montreaux, 1972.

1973>> A concrete testament to the abundance of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s creative wellspring, Atlantic releases two studio albums as well as a live album: Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle, The Art Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Bright Moments.

1975>> Rahsaan submits two albums, The Case Of The 3 Sided Dream In Audio Color and The Return Of The 5000 Lb. Man. Kirk has a debilitating stroke, which leaves him paralyzed on one side of his body.

1976>> Kirk returns to the performing circuit, supporting the release of Other Folks’ Music and Kirkatron.

1977>> Rahsaan Roland Kirk dies shortly after a tour performance in Bloomington, Indiana, due to complications resulting from his stroke two years prior.

1978>> Kirk is elected into the Downbeat Hall of Fame by a board of jazz critics.


-Kirk’s reputation for eccentricities preceded him throughout his professional career, as he introduced new approaches to the jazz musicians’ palette. Some examples of this are his mix of far-reaching genres like classical with rag or Dixieland with contemporary R&B or rock ’n’ roll.

-Constantly searching for new sounds, Kirk invented “new” Instruments by making organic adaptations of traditional ones—the “trumpophone,” a trumpet with a sax mouthpiece, or the “slidesophone,” a slide trumpet with a sax mouthpiece, for example.

-One of the hallmarks of Kirk’s sound was his homemade “manzello” and “stritch,” two old saxes he found in an antique shop. The iconoclast reconstructed these two so that they could be played with a third. Later he would remark, “The idea to do these things came to me in a dream.” This invention also allowed him to continue playing after his first stroke.

-In order to effectively play multiple instruments, which had become Kirk’s signature, the saxophonist had to master the art of circular breathing. This not only enabled him to continuously solo far beyond the length of time that most musicians had in which to phrase their solos, it allowed him to do so on multiple instruments.

-While a major proponent of the post bop/avant-garde movement, Kirk was often criticized by contemporaries for his light banter between and during songs. His “triple threat” playing style and showmanship would often bring comparisons to the older jazz trailblazer Dizzy Gillespie.

-Playing three instruments at a time, Kirk indulged in a broad spectrum of sonic ideas and arrangements concurrently, sometimes in mid-performance. Back when he recorded "Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma'am as a member of Charles Mingus' outfit you can check him playing the tenor sax, flute, siren, manzello, and stritch.

-Both Frank Zappa and Kirk utilized electronics to augment their sound, musicians were inspired to do so by the same guy: Edgard Varese.

-At the avant-garde forefront, Rahsaan Kirk and the Jazz and People’s Movement, his protest group, staged “guerilla activism” tactics that interrupted broadcasts and tapings of TV and radio programs. This was done in an effort to protest the lack of employment available to black-American musicians at recording studios and broadcasting networks. Kirk’s activism reached its zenith when he became violent in 1970 while on The Dick Cavett Show.

-“The Entertainer,” which was covered by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, was originally written by Scott Joplin, the African-American pianist immortalized by "The Maple Leaf Rag" (you've heard Maple Leaf, it was the theme song to The Sting starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman).

-Rahsaan’s use of circular breathing is a concept he adapted from Australian Aborigines, who use it to sustain a continuous tone when playing the didgeridoo.

-Cissy Houston, Whitney's mom, can be heard backing Kirk vocally on the cut “Blacknuss.”

-Kirk’s rendition of “I Say A Little Prayer” exemplified his intracompositional dexterity. The song was recorded live (circa 1972) as a tribute to John Coltrane, Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach.

Albums by Year - Title - Label
1956 - Early Roots/ Compilation - Bethlehem
1956 - Triple Threat/ Compilation - King
1956 - Soulful Saxes/ Compilation - Affinity
1960 - Introducing Roland Kirk - Chess
1961 - Kirk’s Work Original - Jazz
1961 - We Free Kings - Mercury
1961 - Pre Rahsaan/ Compilation - Prestige
1961 - Complete Recordings Of Roland Kirk/ Compilation - Mercury
1961 - Talkin’ Verve: Roots Of Acid Jazz/ Compilation - Verve
1962 - Domino - Verve
1963 - Reeds & Deeds - Mercury
1963 - Kirk In Copenhagen (Live) - Mercury
1963 - Dog Years In The Fourth Ring/ Compilation - 32 Jazz
1964 - Roland Kirk Meets The Benny Golson Orchestra - Mercury
1964 - Gifts And Messages - Mercury
1964 - Talk To The Spirits/ Compilation - Limelight
1965 - Here Comes The Whistleman - Atlantic
1965 - Slightly Latin - Limelight
1965 - Rip, Rag And Panic - Limelight
1965 - Rip, Rag And Panic/ Compilation - EmArcy
1967 - Funk Underneath - Prestige
1967 - Now Please Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith - Verve
1967 - The Inflated Tear - Atlantic
1968 - Left And Right - Atlantic
1968 - Aces Back To Back/ Compilation - 32 Jazz
1969 - Volunteered Slavery - Rhino
1970 - Rahsaan/Rahsaan - Atlantic
1970 - Live In Paris, Vol. 1/ Compilation - France’s
1970 - Live In Paris, Vol. 2/ Compilation - France’s
1971 - Natural Black Inventions: Root Strata - Atlantic
1971 - Blacknuss - Atlantic
1972 - A Meeting Of The Times - Atlantic
1972 - I, Eye, Aye: Live At Montreux, 1972 - Rhino
1973 - Bright Moments (Live) - Rhino
1973 - Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle - Atlantic
1973 - The Art Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Atlantic
1973 - The Man Who Cried Fire/ Compilation - Night
1975 - The Case Of The 3 Sided Dream In Audio Color - Atlantic
1975 - The Return Of The 5000 Lb. Man - Warner
1976 - Other Folks’ Music - Atlantic
1976 - Kirkatron - Warner
1976 - Rahsaan Roland Kirk & His Vibration Society/ Compilation - Jeal
1976 - Paris 1976 (Live)/ Compilation - Royal Jazz
1976 - Simmer, Reduce, Garnish and Serve/ Compilation - Warner
1977 - Boogie Woogie String Along For Real - Warner
1993 - Does Your House Have Lions: RRK Anthlgy. / Compilation - Rhino
1994 - Verve Jazz Masters 27/ Compilation - PolyGram
1996 - Three For The Festival (Live)/ Compilation - Le Jazz
1996 - Sweet Fire Jazz Hour1998 Standing Eight/ Compilation - 32 Jazz
1999 - Haunted Melodies/ Compilation - Metropolitan
1999 - Meeting Of The Times/Eastern Market/ Compilation - Collectables
2000 - Left Hook, Right Cross/ Compilation - 32 Jazz
2000 - Les Incontournables/ Compilation - WEA
2000 - The Vibration Continues/ Compilation - Atlantic
2000 - Soul Station/ Compilation - Affinity
2000 - The Best Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk/ Compilation - Atlantic
2000 - The Jazz Corps/ Compilation - Pacific
2000 - Roller Coaster/ Compilation - Bandstand
2000 - Separate But Equal / Compilation-32 Jazz
Sidenote: As legend holds, Joel Dorn, at the time still a DJ, was chatting with Rahsaan for an interview. Kirk's mind was all over the place but at some point they got on the topic of where each was living when Rahsaan asked Dorn, "Does your house have lions? Mine does. Stumped for a second, Dorn thought Rahsaan was fuggin' with him...Later he realized that Kirk was talking about statues, not the real deal...of course this was days, maybe years after the original conversation took place...double Laters...


Blogger mj said...

recently i read the book: dream brother: the lives and music of jeff and tim buckley.
i had wanted to tell you for a day that jeff was good friends w/ chris dowd, one of the founding members of fishbone though long gone he is, and the book mentions that jeff and chris liked a lot of eclectic music and including one rahsaan roland kirk. ahh the circle of life. i'm as giddy as a little schoolgirl. . .

12:15 PM, June 06, 2005  

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