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I was sleeping, exhausted, in a motel room on the California coast right on the cusp of the Oregon border after a long day of driving that pushed me down the Pacific Coast Highway deep into the night. I plugged in my little radio, found a college station playing jazz and passed out sometime after midnight.

Crazy wailing tore me out of sleep and I sat up, blinking, what the fuck is that? A horn was wailing up front, ripping and tearing and calling out into the anonymous motel room with a rock solid bass behind the ensemble, moving and kicking as the insane blaring horn split the darkness asunder and the sound of the waves rolling into the beach in the background fifty feet away whispered eternity

I turned on the bed stand light and cranked it. Damn. I had no idea what it was in 1990—I’d just discovered jazz as a musician and bought my first alto sax after my father, a classic jazz aficionado, recommended I listen to Miles and Coltrane—and then came this banshee scream out of nowhere in the blind dark motel room night and I knew I’d stumbled onto the truth by chance. Or had it found me out of the ether of the jazz dream time because it was my destiny? Something about my reaction—I didn’t know where I was for a moment as the Hog Callin Blues grabbed me by the throat with its velvet fist—told me this was no accident. What where the odds? If I’d been sleeping in my own bed back East or in New Mexico, would it have found me in the same way? What had happened to the six degrees of separation? No fucking separation! Kirk’s horn found me, touched me, changed who I was forever in my alchemic musical DNA. Damn.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a force of nature. Taken into a music store blind as a child after his eyesight was destroyed by poor medical care, he could pick up and play any horn by touch and sound and smell alone. He often played two, three, four, five instruments at the same time or during one piece. He rebuilt horns to fit his moods and his needs. His flute playing could make statues cry. He composed pieces few others have had the audacity to re-record because they knew they should not disrespect his original intent and performance.

Most guitar players learned from Hendrix. A few, like Stevie Ray Vaughn, could approach him. But no one could get close to Rahsaan, and few horn players had the balls to stand beside him on stage and solo because they knew they’d lose if it came down to a test of power and imagination. Many must have loved to play behind him and study at his feet. Beyond genius, beyond prodigy, he stood alone even though he died at the age of 42. What a sound!

When the college DJ announced that it was Kirk and Mingus playing “Hog Callin Blues” off the Mingus Album, “Oh Yeah” I was set; now I knew where to find the elemental, deep, hard, play-up-from-the-gut-without-fear-until-they-pass-out-before-you-do shit.

Thank you Rahsaan Roland Kirk, for showing me what true musical virtuosity and courage is. Thank you Charles Mingus, for making it happen while laying down a bass line that ran through the shallows of my dreams until Rahsaan swooped down and carried me off to let me sit in his nest while he played his ass off, no questions asked.

Some things live forever.

This does and did and will.

Michael Wilkeson Thompson 7/16/2013

Copyright © 2013 by Michael Wilkeson Thompson

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