WCSU

Artist Profiles - Multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a jazz multi-instrumentalist who played tenor saxophone, flute and many other instruments.

He was born Ronald Theodore Kirk in November, 1935 in Columbus, Ohio, where he lived in a neighborhood known as Flytown. He felt compelled by a dream to transpose two letters in his first name to make Roland. In 1970, Kirk added "Rahsaan" to his name after hearing it in a dream.

Preferring to lead his own bands, Kirk rarely performed as a sideman, although he did record with arranger Quincy Jones and drummer Roy Haynes and had notable stints with bassist Charles Mingus. One of his best-known recorded performances is the lead flute and solo on Jones' "Soul Bossa Nova.”

His playing was generally rooted in soul jazz or hard bop, but Kirk's knowledge of jazz history allowed him to draw from many elements of the music's past, from ragtime to swing and free jazz. Kirk also absorbed classical influences, and his artistry reflected elements of pop music by composers such as Smokey Robinson and Burt Bacharach, as well as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and other jazz musicians. The live album Bright Moments (1973) is an example of one of his shows.

Kirk was politically outspoken. During his concerts, between songs he often talked about topical issues, including black history and the civil rights movement. In 1975, Kirk suffered a major stroke which led to partial paralysis of one side of his body. However, he continued to perform and record, modifying his instruments to enable him to play with one arm. He died from a second stroke in 1977.