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Rahsaan Roland Kirk: “Serenade To a Cuckoo”

Editor’s Note: I ‘d like to thank Scott Dwight, a site visitor, for submitting this guest post. He noted that much of the content is from Wikipedia.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk (August 7, 1935 – December 5, 1977) was a blind American jazz multi-instrumentalist who played tenor saxophone, flute and many other instruments. He was renowned for his onstage vitality, during which virtuoso improvisation was accompanied by comic banter, political ranting, and the ability to play several instruments simultaneously. He was lterally a walking, talking, playing “history of jazz.”

Kirk played and collected a number of musical instruments, mainly various saxophones, clarinets and flutes. His main instruments were tenor saxophone and two obscure saxophones: the stritch (a straight alto sax lacking the instrument’s characteristic upturned bell) and a manzello (a modified saxello soprano sax, with a larger, upturned bell). Kirk modified these instruments himself to accommodate his simultaneous playing technique. This was also assisted by his circular breathing that allowed him to play virtually endlessly without taking a breath. Ian Anderson learned a lot from him.

He played with Charles Mingus, but mainly led his own bands. One of his best-known recorded performances is the lead flute and solo on [Quincy] Jones’ Soul Bossa Nova, a 1964 hit song repopularized in the Austin Powers films.

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. At a live performance at Ronnie Scott’s club in London he even managed to play two instruments, and carried on to tour internationally and even appear on television.

He died from a second stroke in 1977 in the car on the way back from a gig.

Here are I Say a Little Prayer and live performances in Warsaw in 1967 and Bologna in 1973.