The Popstream: Rahsaan Roland Kirk, ''I Say a Little Prayer''


The original YouTube page for today's embedded clip features the following tags: "Rahsaan Roland Kirk", "jazz", "live", "1969", "saxophone" and "impossible". You may be wondering why that last one's on there. Well, it's like this: Ronald Kirk -- who changed his name to "Roland" after it came to him in a dream, then added "Rahsaan" to it when that came to him in a different dream -- lost his sight at a young age. You might know where this story is going, especially if you've seen Ray, with the whole blindness-as-precursor-to-extraperceptive-musicianship career path and all that. Except there's a couple interesting twists: first off, Kirk was one of jazz's most versatile, subgenre-bending players, spanning everything from old-time Dixieland to R&B-influenced funk/soul fusion, sometimes within the span of a single song. And second off, he didn't so much play the sax as he played a couple. At once. And the flute. With his nose.

The overall result is a pretty incredible spectacle: it looks like some kind of crazy stunt, but it also sounds like a complex yet nuanced improvised real-time reconstruction of whatever various jazz idioms might be inspiring him at that particular moment. This take on Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "I Say A Little Prayer" (which appears in a somewhat different form on his 1969 album Volunteered Slavery) is one of his wilder numbers, with an unusual portable Theremin intro and an exhibition of one of Kirk's other great abilities: his stage banter.


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