"Rip, Rig, and Panic!"

1936-1977; from Ohio. A jazz eclectic, with roots in bebop and blues; he later incorporated elements of modal jazz, free jazz, and electronics, pushing the envelope while still remaining commercially viable. Blind, he played while wearing all manner of woodwinds around his neck, sometimes playing two or three at once. The name Rahsaan was "given" to him in one of his vivid dreams. Was so musically honed that when he got an early touch-tone phone, he started composing tunes on it.

Nobody plays like him - his general style wasn't something easily imitated, like a John Coltrane or Dexter Gordon. What has lived on has been the unique quirks in that style - saxophonists like Dick Heckstall-Smith and Ian Dury and the Blockheads' Davey Payne learned to play two saxes at once, inspired by Rahsaan, while Ian Anderson's habit of humming along to his flute came from listening to Rahsaan disques. The technique of circular breathing, in which one supplies a seemingly-endless stream of air into a woodwind, was popularized (in the modern-day West) by him. And the "ancient to the future" ethos (in which all black music is part of the same continuum), while coined by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, also has Rahsaan as a midwife.

One of the great things about Rahsaan Roland Kirk was that he didn't use his technique (playing multiple instruments at once, circular breathing, etc.) as a mere gimmick. He used these things because it was necessary for what he wanted to do. Listening to his recordings, you aren't even aware of these things--they're transparent.

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