The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk
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One of the great eccentrics of jazz finally gets a biography, albeit a sloppy one. Even in a music that has produced its share of offbeat personalities, Roland Kirk was truly one-of-a-kind. Blind almost from birth, Kirk mastered a seemingly endless array of instruments, playing not only conventional jazz staples like flute and tenor sax but also saxophone forerunners like the manzello and the stritch, the oboe, dozens of homemade concoctions of his own devising like the nose flute and the surulophone, and a raft of percussion. Even more spectacularly, he frequently played three horns at a time. But despite his sideshow reputation, Kirk was not merely a circus act; he was a serious, talented musician whose sidemen included the best bop and hard-bop players, a musician good enough to play with the demanding Charles Mingus. Musician/journalist Kruth retells Kirk’s story through the words of his friends, wife, and fellow musicians. In addition, he was granted access to Kirk’s tape-recorded reminiscences for an unfinished autobiography. Regrettably, Kruth eschews all but the most rudimentary chronology, preferring to organize the book as a series of riffs within a hit-or-miss thematic framework. He has spoken not only to nearly everyone who ever played with Kirk but to anyone who ever saw him, met him, or heard one of his records. The result is a rambling, disorganized, and ultimately dull excursion in which Kruth uses every word of every interview he ever conducted, whether it illuminates his subject or not. The raw material for a biography of a persistently underrated jazzman is here; it awaits an author. Reads like a 400-page magazine profile, with all the problems that description suggests.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-56649-105-3
Page count: 416pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1999