Cultural Percussionist

Rahsaan Roland Kirk Day

Rahsaan Roland Kirk (August 7, 1935 – December 5, 1977) was an 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.

Kirk was born Ronald Theodore Kirk in Columbus, Ohio, where he lived in a neighborhood known as Flytown. He felt compelled by a dream to transpose two letters in his first name to make ‘”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.

Kirk’s musical career spans from 1955 until his death in 1977. He preferred to lead his own bands and rarely performed as a sideman, although he did record with arranger Quincy Jones, drummer Roy Haynes and worked with bassist Charles Mingus. One of his best-known recorded performances is the lead flute and solo on Jones’ “Soul Bossa Nova“, a 1964 hit song repopularized in the Austin Powers films (Jones 1964; McLeod et al. 1997).

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