Saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who astounded listeners by playing three horns at once, died Monday at a hospital in Bloomington, Ind., hours after his last concert. He was 41.
Mr. Kirk gave two concerts at Indiana University Sunday night, and was stricken as he and his quintet, the Vibration Society, were leaving Bloomington. The cause of death was not immediately known.
The musician, blind since age 2, suffered a serious stroke in 1975, and was paralyzed on his right side. The stroke greatly curtailed his ability to perform at his usual agitated - and booming - pace. His right arm, hanging limp at his side, he stopped playing three horns simultaneously and used a special curved flute that could be played with one hand.
Before his stroke, Mr. Kirk made playing three horns (sometimes as tenor saxophone, manzello and stritch) more than just a show business gimmick but a basic part of his artistic expression.
In a performance several years ago, th musician delivered gripping unaccompanied versions of "Lover" and "What Is This Thing Called Love" on tenor saxophone and manzello, constructing distinct counter melodies, playing harmony for himself and pitting rhythm against rhythm.
Mr. Kirk also played flute, clarinet and soprano saxophone.
Why did he want to play more than one horn at a time?
Said Mr. Kirk: "I dreamed that I was playing two horns at once and I decided to do it. My life has been motivated by dreams. I have had a series of dreams throughout my life, and each one I had changed my life. That's why I added Rahsaan to my name. I'm not a Muslim."
The appeal of Mr. Kirk's music rested in its emotional directness, lively quality and programmatic features. Listeners never mistook his anger or tenderness for anything else when he played. His performances always were upbeat. And titles of his compositions demonstrate his social concerns: "Volunteered Slavery," "Lady's Blues," "The Seeker," "Blacknuss."
In 1970, Mr. Kirk's social conscience led him to protest the lack of jazz musicians given television time. He headed the Jazz and People's Movement, which disrupted the Merv Griffin, Tonight and Dick Cavett shows.
Subsequently, musicians were invited on the Today and Cavett shows to discuss the absence of jazz from TV. Mr. Kirk also led an ensemble, including Charles Mingus and Archie Shepp, in an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in early 1971. It was a rare showing for modern jazz on the Sullivan show.
Mr. Kirk was born Aug. 7, 1936, in Columbus, Ohio. He was educated at the Ohio State School for the Blind. He started trumpet lessons at age 9 and soon switched to saxophone and clarinet. By 1951, he was working with well known bands in Ohio.
The musician began recording in 1960. The following year he joined the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop. In 1963 and 1964, Mr. Kirk toured Europe and received excellent notices. Early in his career, he was molding the style that he later perfected - a splendid blend of the traditional and new. He was as confortable in playing pieces associated with saxophonists of the 1930s - Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Lester Young - as he was innexploring new trends started by John Coltrane or Albert Ayler.
Survivors include his wife, Dorthann, of the home in East Orange, N.J., a son, Rory, three stepchildren, a stepgrandchild, five sisters and a brother.