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Friday, February 5, 2010
Hey! Hey! Hey! It's Black History Month
The first time I saw Rahsaan Roland Kirk he was performing at Town Hall in midtown Manhattan. I ran out and bought "Volunteered Slavery" when it first came out (in 1969) and three years later I was going to finally catch him in the wild, so to speak. He was a chunky guy with an even chunkier pair of sunglasses on. A very young guy helped him towards the center of the stage. Kirk wore a dashiki and had several horns and noisemakers, even the joke shop variety, hanging from his neck.
"I smoked so much pot on the way here I was blinder than a bat's asshole", Kirk joked, killing any guilt over paying to see a blind man perform. He then proceeded to play three saxes at once and blow whistles out of his incredibly huge gorilla nostrils. When he got winded on the raunch he'd filter down to sweet ballads in the Coltrane mode.
Five years later I hung out on the Long Beach boardwalk after a punk rock show, and I saw a familiar guy being lead by his assistant to a car in the distance - it was definitely Rahsaan Roland Kirk !(he must have been to The Lighthouse). He was so stoned he probably was blinder than a bat's asshole.
I saw Sun Ra's monstrous big band at Myron's Ballroom in downtown LA, then at The Palomino in North Hollywood (a Country & Western music bar), and finally at Slug's New York. Slug's was the smallest of the clubs Sun Ra performed at, but maybe the weirdest. At some point in his set he turned and smiled at me like he knew me from the other shows. (I stood in the back at those shows!)
The very first Sun Ra album I bought was "Nothing Is" on ESP-Disk, a label as mysterious and creepy as Mr. Ra-Mr. Ree-Mr. Mystery was. I bought the record in 1972 when I was at a crossroads in my life, trying to grow up and look for some guidance. Sun Ra and his messages of escaping the white darkness of Planet Earth was awe-inspiring to me.
Shortly before my brother-in-law passed away he told Rebecca of a dream he had where an old black man in furs and a cape dressed in gold met him in the desert and told him that he had nothing to fear. I said that he met Sun Ra. "It's the RA! It's Sun Ra!" This was 1996, and Ra had already departed the atmosphere three years earlier. When I told my in-laws it was Sun Ra they thought I was insane. Some people have trouble accepting the vision of Ra.
Jazz music is the only art form basically built by telepathy: the musicians completely communicate via their instruments and know precisely when to come in and when to stop without exchanging any words whatsoever. It's uncanny; a look is all it takes for the tempo to change or a small sound from a string bass and the key changes. There are no other art forms as telepathic as jazz.
Being a Jewish teenager in the Seventies was intense. Black people were finally making some serious money and moving into our neighborhood, making everyone nervous. School teachers and neighborhood leaders were telling me that black people were insane, wild beasts, which was ridiculous. My heroes at the time were guys like Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and Eric Dolphy, jazz geniuses who weren't even accepted by their own people because they were "so stretched out". But I didn't care: Their music offered me an escape from the bonds of my insane environment, and their personal philosophy was about elevating to a higher plane, not with drugs, but with an evangelical crusade of love for God via atonal music. The message was absolutely awesome.