Rahsaan Roland Kirk lost his sight when he was two years old, but this had little effect on him pursuing music. While attending the Ohio School For The Blind, he set the groundwork that would eventually lead to him mastering over 40 instruments.
Kirk developed a reputation for being aggressively outspoken on racial and political issues and remained eccentric throughout his musical career. Always in search of new sounds, Kirk not only learned how to play multiple instruments simultaneously, but actively experimented in reconstructing new instruments by combining parts from existing ones. Playing multiple instruments, which became part of Kirk's signature sound, required mastering a circular breathing technique.
Using this technique, Kirk was not only able to sustain a single note as long as he pleased, but he could solo at high speeds for virtually unlimited lengths of time. Kirk was also an influential flute player, developing new techniques such as singing or humming at the same time or playing the nose flute and a standard model simultaneously.
These eccentricities, as well as his embracing of contemporary pop, soul, and rock compositions often alienated him from the jazz community. Although firmly planted within a jazz framework, Kirk often mixed in diverse elements like classical with ragtime or traditional Dixieland with contemporary R&B.
Like Bob Dylan when he plugged in an electric guitar and Miles Davis when he embraced electronic instrumentation, purists were often in an uproar over Kirk's new approach to music. Some initially thought this multi-instrumentalism was a gimmick, but upon hearing him perform as a one man horn section and actually achieving true chords through multiple horns, few left unimpressed.
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