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Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Biography

Rahsaan Roland Kirk could rightfully be awarded the title of Clown Prince of Jazz. His startling, funky, raucous, anarchic music was often comic, often unsettling, and full of both jazz history and biting social commentary. His arrangements took their inspiration from Dixieland, Swing, Bop, R&B, and the Avant-Garde; the effect was a freewheeling musical gumbo. Kirk also pioneered some unusual effects. Through the technique of circular breathing, he would often play several saxophones at once, creating a one-man horn "section!" He played two saxophone-like relics, the manzello and the strich, originally from Spanish military bands, that virtually no other jazz musician has ever played. And he used whistles, sirens, and other unusual sounds to punctuate his unorthodox compositions. Many jazz purists in the '60s dismissed all these effects as pure gimmick. But Kirk maintained that they were essential parts of his music, and listening to him, it's hard to disagree.
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