Rahsaan Roland Kirk Inspired Many Innovators by Demonstrating Unabashed Creativity and Courage

Legendary jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1935-1977) played several different instruments such as the tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, harmonica, English horn, trumpet and several others. What made him so unique is that he was able to flawlessly play two or three of these instruments simultaneously. His ability to improvise on stage made each of his performances an inimitable experience for his audience.

“Keep searchin’ for your mystery note on the universal piano of life.” – Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Kirk’s sounds and style left a strong impression on his listeners, especially on musical visionaries from the era in which he played and the years that followed his death. Rahsaan Roland Kirk was an important influence on trendsetters such as virtuoso electric guitarist Jimi Hendrix, John Zorn, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and Paul Weller of The Jam.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk was always politically opinionated, his concerts and recordings included monologues on Civil Rights, Watergate, African-American history and other topical concerns. These asides were often poignant and satirical. During comedian Jay Leno’s early career he was the opening act for Rahsaan Roland Kirk; Leno eventually went on to host the Tonight Show, replacing Johnny Carson. Kirk also worked with legendary arranger Quincy Jones and renowned bassist Charles Mingus.

“We are all driven by an invisible whip. Some run, some have fun, some are hip, some tip, some dip, but we all must answer to the invisible whip.” – Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Kirk was blind at the age of two yet this disability never seemed to characterize him in any way. Not only did he master several instruments, he also altered instruments to suit his exceptional style, and he even created a few new instruments of his own. Kirk’s vast knowledge of diverse forms of music, such as classical, pop, Dixieland and jazz provided him with the foundation to improvise beautiful sounds from multiple instruments at once. His style was not a gimmick, but the culmination of his creative spirit.

“I wish we could just stay on the bandstand, it’s so peaceful up here.” – Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Author: Phil Zavackis


Phil Zavackis is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He has recently finished a screenplay titled ‘105 Degrees & Rising’, which is about the Fall of Saigon in 1975. https://www.quora.com/profile/Phil-Zavackis/blogs



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