REMEMBERING RAHSAAN: Steve Turre works to keep Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s legacy alive, returning to the Rahsaanathon every year to lead the “Eulipion All Stars” in a tribute to his mentor.
Over the course of his career, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was not always appreciated. Nonetheless, he inspired many still-active jazz musicians. Running the gamut from a trombonist and conch shell player to a pianist and composer to a Bill-Clinton-approved saxophonist, the following artists either played with Rahsaan or deeply studied his works, making them the closest replicators of that singular man’s sound. This week they come together at Café Stritch’s annual Rahsaanathon to honor the legendary jazzman.
As a 20 year-old, Turre played alongside Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Inspired by Rahsaan’s multi-instrument, medium-defying creativity, Turre took the spirit of the icon and applied it to an unconventional instrument: conch shells. Known in pop culture mostly for their ability to rally barbarians, Turre uses the conch to blow ghostly solos, his delicate notes floating out of the calcified fractals in a buzzy wail. Gathered during his travels through the Caribbean and Great Barrier Reef of Australia, he cuts the openings to hit a precise pitch. While playing, he modulates the notes by inserting his hand into their swirled openings and seamlessly switches between the limited-register shells, popping high notes out of the smaller ones and weaving bass melodies with the larger ones. More conventionally, the ponytailed savant plays the trombone and has accompanied legends like Carlos Santana and Ray Charles.
Rahsaan attracted the attention of musical king-maker Ed Sullivan with his rendition of “My Cherie Amour,” a swaying love ballad that he rendered distinctly by switching between his three saxophones. But when Rahsaan appeared on Sullivan’s final show accompanied by pianist Smith, bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist Archie Shepp, they broke their promise to play the meandering ballad. In the green room before their five-minute slot, Rahsaan worked himself into a lather proclaiming, “We’re gonna burn it down! We’re gonna burn the place down!”
And burn it down they did. The all-star ensemble unleashed Mingus’ spirit-quickening “Haitian Fight Song,” an already frenetic composition that got cranked up to eleven and stunned the iconic host and his studio audience who were expecting “classical jazz.”
An accomplished composer as well, he collaborated with Shamek Farrah on The World of the Children, where he slams, tickles and taps the ivory and ebony, flying through differing rhythms and melodies in an inspired display of range and prowess.
Claire Daly knew by the age of 12 that she wanted to play the saxophone for the rest of her life. But making a living proved to be a trickier. She played everywhere from jazz clubs to parades to rock concerts before deciding to lay down a record of her own. Wielding her huge baritone sax, she produced Swing Low in 1999, an exceptional debut as a leader. The release garnered the attention of perhaps the most famous saxophone player at the time, President Bill Clinton, who placed the record into his eponymous Arkansas Library as a CD significant to him while he was in office. Years later, to return the favor, she played at a Democratic fundraiser. In that same year, she paid tribute to Rahsaan alongside an all-star cast of musicians including Dave Hofstra and Eli Yamin, and she enjoyed the icon’s stylings so much that she’s continued reimagining his works into the present.
More recently, in 2012 the North Coast Brewing Co. produced a record of hers in conjunction with the release of their Belgian style dark ale, Brother Thelonious, the name forming a cheeky tribute to the lauded composer-pianist Thelonious Monk and the monks that traditionally brew the high-potency ale.
With his combination of multi-instrument prowess, atypical sounds and pure joy, James Carter gets as close as possible to replicating the singular brilliance of Rahsaan. The virtuosic Carter has mastered the gauntlet of reed instruments, from sopranino to contrabass saxophones to contrabass and bass clarinets. When he plays, he scampers up and down the sonic spectrum, biting his reed to hit scratchy, oddly hypnotizing notes, then huffing and slapping to create an almost percussive effect, before soaring to ear-piercing heights— occasionally heaving a sigh in comic contrast to his breakneck stylings. Nicknamed the “Jimi Hendrix of Jazz,” his solos are testament to the limitless potential of the human imagination.