It’s been a few weeks since Joel Dorn died of a heart attack, and I wanted to make sure to post on the record producer. Most of the obits mentioned the illustrious list of artists Dorn produced over the years, from the Allman Brothers and Roberta Flack to Bette Midler and Max Roach. But there’s one relationship I want to focus on, which is Dorn’s with the late jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
Kirk, a particular favorite of mine, has never been properly appreciated (in my opinion) by the jazz elite. I suspect this had to do with his habit of playing multiple horns at the same time. That left Kirk overshadowed by John Coltrane and even a lesser level of intense, serious players (Pharoah Sanders) who would never dare to, say, play a nose flute.
Dorn always loved Kirk, and produced many of his records. But it was really in the CD age that Dorn did his best work with the saxophonist, who died in 1976 at just 41. He collected bootlegged tapes and put them out on disc. He reissued long forgotten sessions. And he continued to push for more Rahsaan, even if the market didn’t demand it.
After Dorn’s death last month, Kevin Calabro, his loyal sideman at a series of record companies, approached Kirk’s widow, Dorthaan, for a comment. Here’s what she sent me:
I believe I first met him @ the studio when Rahsaan recorded Blacknuss.!!!! I don’t remember a lot other than I was amazed @ everything. I had only been in the east a few months & was just getting accustomed to the whole business.!!! I don’t remember Rahsaan talking about Joel to me. He could be very closed & sometimes strange, even with me. However, I do know he thought he was a very creative person & obviously dug his music. Also, one of the major things was that Rahsaan knew that Joel “Got It.” Rahsaan always thought he & his music were misunderstood. I don’t really know any other producers to compare him with but just looking from a distance at what others have done & other LP’s CD’s I’ve listened to, he had a creative ability that was innate of him.
His recordings always seemed to go to another level, beyond the norm of: picking compositions, get a band & record. You know what I mean? Recording Rahsaan’s last album was a NIGHTMARE because he was ill & on dialysis.!!!! That probably requires a conversation.
No, I wasn’t surprised at all @ him reissuing Rahsaan’s music.!!! Soon after Rahsaan died, he talked to me about it.!!! And, he has done whatever he could to keep it out there in spite of resistance from me from time to time. I ALWAYS knew he loved Rahsaan’s music.!! They were on the same wave length.!!! I just used to say they were OUT.!!! Especially when they named one LP Case of the Three Sided Dream in Audio Color.!!! I was the one that did not get it.!!!! I can’t remember ANY of the witty funny things Joel would say to me. HOWEVER, we could be having a conversation & I would be laughing SO hard @ the things he said. I wish I would have written them down.!!! They were right off the top of his head.!!
Quick.!!!! As you know I called him “Turkey.” When he wanted to be get me, he called me “Widow Kirk.” He was truly ONE OF A KIND.!!!
Good grief, I'm going to miss him.!!!!!
Photo: Greg Aiello
A week before his death, Dorn is pictured at a Rahsaan Roland Kirk tribute in New York City.