H. Johnson pays tribute to the visually impaired, multitalented, wind instrumentalist Rashaan Roland Kirk

"Blues Classics" host H. Johnson. (Photo of WABE)

WABE’s H. Johnson has been a fixture on our station since 1978. As host of both “Blues Classics” and “Jazz Classics,” H. continually educates and entertains WABE listeners every Friday and Saturday night. Now, H. joins “City Lights” every other Friday to share a bit from his breadth of jazz knowledge. The segment, “H. Johnson’s Jazz Moment,” explores selections from the best of H.’s music collection, along with tidbits from history, personal reflections, and H.’s thoughts on the evergreen resonance of jazz. 

In this segment, Johnson paid tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, an artist who may not receive the remembrance consistently awarded to other household names of jazz like Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, but who’s perhaps as deserving. Johnson speaks his name sonorously: “I like to say it dramatically because when I think of him, that’s the way I think of him – dramatically.”

Blind from an early age and a by-ear player who never read sheet music, Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a polyglot of wind instruments. The adventuring virtuoso played saxophone, clarinet, and flute, and on occasion, literally played several horns at once. “I’ll say it again. He had three or four different horns in his mouth at the same time, and he’d be playing them all,” Johnson marveled. Often mistaken for a carnival act, Kirk defied easy categorization with fluency in jazz, blues, and pop, as well as classical music. 

Johnson attested his favorite work by Kirk falls into the blues category. “When he played the blues, he was riveting, so to speak; absolutely riveting,” he said. Featured track “The Business Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” showcases Kirk on flute, delivering an arresting, confrontational performance with vocalizations mixed into his smoky flute tone, following his melodies note for note and even breaking into otherworldly harmonies. In an epic moment, Kirk allows himself a flute solo that sits on its climactic pitch note for an entire 20 seconds, defying all conventional wisdom regarding human lung capacity. 

Catch H. Johnson’s Blue Classics every Friday from 10 p.m. to midnight, and Jazz Classics every Saturday from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on WABE 90.1 Atlanta.