By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
FROM A PERSONALITY STANDPOINT, READING about jazz is almost as much fun as listening to it, the latest evidence being John Kruth's Bright Moments: The Life & Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, published by Welcome Rain. To be sure, Kruth had the advantage of writing about a blind guy who could play three saxophones at once, which talent has also been the greatest obstacle to Kirk's receiving his historical due. The fact that Kirk (who was solidly documented on Prestige, by the way) was much more than a freak show -- an affirmation belabored herein by umpteen musicians, friends and writers, nearly to the point of refuting itself -- is easily demonstrable to anyone with operational sonic receptors, and a reissue program by both 32 Records (abetted by Kruth) and Rhino has raised the ingenious musician's profile to frightening heights. What's new here is the image of Kirk as an exponent, promoter and encyclopedic repository of jazz. All his sirens and bells, raving and showboating are revealed as inevitable, explosive effluent, as if African-American musical history were billions of gallons of water and Kirk's mouth were the only hole in the dam. In this overintellectualized era of jazz, acknowledging that kind of passion hammers Kirk's early paralysis and death into an infuriating metaphor.
Surprisingly little of Reading Jazz, edited by Robert Gottlieb for Vintage Press, is duplicated from David Meltzer's 1993 book of the same name. And at more than 1,000 pages, this "Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage and Criticism From 1919 to Now" is over three times as long. So there. I was prepared to be enlightened by Sidney Bechet protesting against the cliché of jazz being born in brothels, by Jean-Paul Sartre's obsession with the ugliness of American jazz and jazzmen, by Ralph Ellison musing on "why, during a period when most jazzmen were labeled 'cats,' someone hung the bird on Charlie [Parker]." But naturally I went straight to the end, where I could enjoy the aforementioned Orrin Keepnews, once a music journalist himself, wondering how to get rid of "the hordes of shallow, opportunistic and virtually unidentifiable newspaper and magazine hacks." He soon realizes, of course, that you can't.
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