In the history of jazz there have been tons of amazing improvisers, imposing figures who stand out in their field. Some such as Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and Pat Metheny have become popular figures, but most avant garde players have remained little known in spite of their acclaim within the jazz world.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk is such a figure. Here is how AllMusic describes him:
Arguably the most exciting saxophone soloist in jazz history, Kirk was a post-modernist before that term even existed. Kirk played the continuum of jazz tradition as an instrument unto itself; he felt little compunction about mixing and matching elements from the music’s history, and his concoctions usually seemed natural, if not inevitable. When discussing Kirk, a great deal of attention is always paid to his eccentricities — playing several horns at once, making his own instruments, clowning on stage. However, Kirk was an immensely creative artist; perhaps no improvising saxophonist has ever possessed a more comprehensive technique — one that covered every aspect of jazz, from Dixieland to free — and perhaps no other jazz musician has ever been more spontaneously inventive. His skills in constructing a solo are of particular note. Kirk had the ability to pace, shape, and elevate his improvisations to an extraordinary degree. During any given Kirk solo, just at the point in the course of his performance when it appeared he could not raise the intensity level any higher, he always seemed able to turn it up yet another notch.
My personal favorite album of his has always been The Inflated Tear – it is modern yet traditional, showcases the tremendous gifts and wild styles Kirk could bring to bear, and full of great songs and improvisations.
From 1968 to 1973 WNET in New York featured a show called ‘Soul’ that was according to the station “devoted entirely to and aimed at the metropolitan area’s black community.” There were a load of great artists in music and theater and other areas featured during the five seasons. Today the station has made a one-hour feature on Rahsaan Roland Kirk publicly available.
The show features plenty of music, as well as interviews and some crazy antics – it is well worth watching. But it is an hour long! So for now, listen to Rahsaan Roland Kirk playing The Inflated Tear from a concert in 1967.