I was sitting on the floor, floored, listening to Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s music via someone else’s record collection maybe 14 summers ago. I collected myself enough to grasp what I was hearing. This artist could play multiple wind instruments at the same time using a technique called “circular breathing.”
Kirk was blind. His execution and presentation — whether heard on LP or watched in a YouTube video — revealed his mastery of the senses despite sightlessness. In his music I saw futures take flight and people moving through time. His instrumental covers of classic soul tracks like “Ain’t No Sunshine” seemed to add birdsong, a flutter of nerves, and ways of howling out loss that were comparable to (yet vastly dissimilar from) Bill Withers’ original.
I enjoy his early albums as much as his later ones; his impressive style including traditional jazz foundations and avant-garde concept albums further down the line. I never tire of his ability to play a saxophone, a flute and a euphonium in the same phrase. He might add a touch of harmonica, too.
“You Did It, You Did It” is a fun example of his multi-talented capabilities. Instruments are played by mouth and nose. Guttural sounds emanate from Kirk himself. Sometimes it’s a faint whisper of lyrics on-the-spot. Other times a macaw cries out or the ecstatic warble of music’s hold. It is a wild, often humorous showcase of how a person can have one foot in jazz’s origins while using the rest of their body and brain to break into a whole new element.
It was astounding for me, someone who writes poetry and nonfiction, to grasp how one can find their “voice” musically but also instrumentally. His talent was so far beyond what we ever deserved. I like to pass his music along when I can. I hope this post will be a gateway for someone who grows more interested in Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s work and dizzying approach!
Music never stops being interesting. Just keep listening.
(Song recommendation by K Weber)