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John Kruth

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Blind jazz artist Rahsaan Roland Kirk had as much influence on multi-instrumentalist John Kruth as the Beatles or Bob Dylan, and probably even more. Kirk, also a multi-instrumentalist, did astounding things with such instruments as the saxophone, clarinet, and flute. Although the two musicians never met, their paths intersected several times, with the result being that Kirk's musical mastery and spirited life had a direct influence on the emerging younger musician. Upon hearing the elder jazz statesman's diversity on the radio in New York, a teenaged Kruth came to the conclusion that a musician didn't necessarily have to be tied to just one instrument. It was one of those light-bulb moments when an idea clarifies and takes hold, and it set Kruth on his way to playing more than simply one instrument. The second major point where Kirk's influence came into play in Kruth's life was in 1995. By then Kirk had been dead for 18 years and Kruth was quite ill, suffering from a thyroid ailment and unable to tour. Stuck in bed with a long period of recuperation stretching out in front of him, Kruth became energized by the idea of writing a biography of his musical hero. He devoted a total of about three years to his research for Bright Moments: The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, which was published by Welcome Rain and includes scores of interviews with people who had known, loved, or worked with the jazz great. Collaborating with producer Joel Dorn, Kruth also penned the booklet that accompanies one of Kirk's posthumous releases of live recordings, Dog Years in the Fourth Ring, which he also co-produced. Kruth lived in Milwaukee during the 1980s through 1995. He performed as a member of the Milwaukee Creative Music Ensemble, and as part of the band that backed the Violent Femmes. Later in New York with Reckless Optimism, his own quartet, he played what he dubbed "folkloric jazz." In addition, he has performed in collaboration with Hal Wilner, Garth Hudson, and John Cale, and has put out about half a dozen CDs of his own. Kruth is also a poet. His first poem was published when he was 18, and his work has appeared in Rolling Stone and the New York Times, among other publications. ~ Linda Seida

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June 19, 1955

Years Active:

'80s, '90s, '00s