The Classic Rock Concerts I’ve Attended Vault™ — Rahsaan Roland Kirk Edition

Fast forward a few years to late 1976, and another Classic Rock Concerts I’ve Attended Vault nugget from a small, local jazz club on 8 Mile Road where I took a date to see a jazz legend. On Thursday, September 23, 1976, I escorted my first serious girlfriend Kimberly Nichter to Clarence Baker’s “Baker’s Keyboard Lounge” to see the late, great Rahsaan Roland Kirk. I was totally gassed to see this amazing artist, Kim not so much.

Kirk dedicated his set to the memory of John Coltrane who was born on that day in 1926 (Coltrane died of liver cancer on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40). His Coltrane medley was outstanding and featured several of his greatest compositions (e.g., Giant Steps, My Favorite Things, Afro Blue, etc.).

For those not in the know, Roland Kirk was an American jazz artist who played tenor saxophone, flute and many other wind instruments. He was renowned for his onstage vitality, during which virtuoso improvisation was accompanied by comic banter, political rants, and the ability to play several instruments simultaneously. Kirk could play two saxophones at once while also playing an ocarina with his nose. I, on the other hand, have listened to music on my headphones while ALSO cutting the lawn.

Kirk was born Ronald Theodore Kirk but felt compelled by a dream to transpose two letters in his first name to make it Roland. He became blind at an early age as a result of poor medical treatment. In 1970, Kirk added “Rahsaan” to his name after hearing it in a dream. Yes, after hearing it in a dream.

Allowed to bring his instruments on planes when traveling he would often play a single, never-ending note (he was a master of circular breathing) in perfect pitch with the hum of the jet engine — much to the dismay of fellow passengers. His blindness and vivid dream life inspired many of his greatest artistic moments and he was a jazz musician and performance artist unlike anyone ever known. My blindness to the vagaries of everyday life and lack of a vivid dream life conspired to end my relationship with Ms. Nichter. Neither of us looked back in anger. Well…at least I didn’t.

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