Jazz Icons Series 3
Studio: Reelin’ in the Years Productions 2119008 (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 B&W
Audio: English, DD mono
Extras: illustrated 24-page booklet with liner notes by John Kruth, forward by Dorthaan Kirk, rare photos & memorabilia collage
Length: 80 minutes
This is one of the most valuable of all the latest series of Jazz Icons DVDs due to multi-reedman Kirk being such a visual trip. The booklet notes also fill in the fascinating story of the virtuoso performer, who I was lucky enough to meet at one point. Along with Django Reinhardt, Kirk is another jazz figure crying out for a dramatic feature film or documentary to be made of his life.
First, his name doesn’t come from conversion to being a Black Muslim – it came to him in a dream, as did many of his musical ideas, including playing multiple horns at the same time. He was born with reduced eyesight, but a careless nurse put too much medicine in his eyes and at age 2 he was completely blinded. He was quite a showman, very outspoken about politics and racism and used quirky humor as part of his stage presence and music. He discovered the two odd, obsolete reed instruments he played in the basement of a music store in his home town of Columbus, Ohio. Kirk predicted during his final concert in 1975 that his end was coming, and died of a heart attack the next day.
There is footage from three concerts here: in Belgium, Holland and Norway, with four or five selections at each venue. Sonics are excellent on all three, but the visual coverage varies. The first is the best, with close ups of Kirk performing with his arsenal of instruments around his neck – tenor sax, clarinet, stritch, manzello, with a flute often in the bell of the sax. Plus he often adds a siren, whistles and small music boxes! The second video, in Holland, is a kinescope and more contrasty and crude than some others in this series. The final Norwegian footage is film, but often with a hand-held camera held by an extremely fidgety cameraman – the zooms are jerky and bouncy.
On some tunes Kirk switches quickly between instruments as an organist would between different manuals, but on others he plays two of the reed instruments or even three of them simultaneously. On one track his cheeks bellow out Dizzy-style while he blows on two saxes, but each cheek seems to be independent of the other one! It’s never quite clear where he keeps the music box which is occasionally heard at the end of some tunes. He gets a lovely chordal effect out of three instruments on Three for the Festival, which is performed twice in the videos, demonstrating that his acrobatic accomplishments are not just a gimmick but work musically. At only age 39 Kirk had a stroke which evidently paralyzed one side; he learned to play the various instruments with one arm and continued as before.
Belgium 1963: Moon Song, Lover, Three for the Festival, Yesterdays, Milestones
Holland 1963: Bags’ Groove, Lover Man, There Will Never Be Another You, Three for the Festival
Norway 1967: Blues for Alice, Blue Rol, The Shadow of Your Smile, Making Love After Hours, NY Theme
– John Henry