Newark’s first lady of Jazz and WBGO Co-Founder and special events coordinator will celebrate her 80th birthday this summer. The New Jersey Performing Arts center is commemorating the occasion with a special night of jazz in her honor. Dorthaan Kirk has had a tremendous influence on the world of jazz over her more than 40 year career.
Jazz saxophonist Don Braden has worked with Dorthaan Kirk for the last two decades producing three jazzathons together. Braden describes the moment the two met in 1998 when he became director of NJPAC’s jazz for teens program.
“So I conducted my first student concert and she was one of the speakers, and in those days Phillip Thomas was the VP. So he’d introduce everybody and she’d come up and I’m like Dorthaan Kirk as in Rahsaan Roland Kirk, my jaw drops and there comes this incredibly beautiful woman walking up, classic beauty classic sister walks out, and I’m like mesmerized by everything about her, her energy is magical. Dorthaan is probably the worlds biggest jazz advocate, like the person that goes to the mat 24/7 for this music, and loves it feels it to her very sole and will got out her way for the music and for the musicians, and that’s why we all love her because she’s a hundred percent sincere about making sure this music stays vital.”
“My name is Steve Turre and I play trombone and seashells.”
As one of Dorthaan's closet friends and colleagues Turre is one of few that personally knew and recorded with her late husband, jazz legend Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
“I think it was probably around 67 or 68, we were playing at the Both And Jazz Club, Dorthaan came up from L.A. to hang with Rahsaan and I remember I would give them a ride back to The Pickwick Hotel, in San Francisco after the gig because I had a car a lil bug, and you know I learned so much from Rahsaan, and Dorthaan was there, just there with the music like Voom. We go way back, I mean we have a lot of memories about Rahsaan right to the end; we were both there when he passed as well. We have a lot of things we don’t even talk about, we just look at each other and say, hmmhmm you know! Goes way back.”
Turre goes on to share the story behind the jazz classic Dorthaan’s walk.
“Rahsaan wrote a song for Dorthaan called Dorthaan’s walk, because he could tell a person by the wound, rhythm, and weight of your footsteps he could tell who’d come in the room by the sound of your walk. And, he used to say she had these boots and he liked it when she’d wear those boots, and he liked it when she’d stroll with those boots on, and he wrote that song Dorthaan’s Walk, and I got to record that with Rahsaan.”
Jazz Vocalist Antoinette Montague shares some of her fondest memories of Kirk and her no- nonsense larger than life personality.
“As a born at the Beth Newarker raised in the public School system has been this pervasive school of learning this music and learning the history of this music and part of that history and part of that learning all weaved together with my knowledge of Carrie Smith was Dorthaan Kirk, showing up and popping up. I know I gave Carrie a big birthday party up at Highlawn Pavilion and Dorthaan was invited, and she came in and said, Carrie I’ve been working just for you and jazz vespers is going to happen at Bethanny and we want you to be the first one, and she had Carrie be the first one. You know we have a soft organization this thing called jazz, we have our reputation and we have what I believe is our level of integrity, and your level of integrity has to be impeccable to even approach and mess with Dorthaan because she does not suffer fools at all.”
As Newark’s first lady of jazz is set to celebrate yet another milestone, the message from those who have been afforded the opportunity to know and work with Kirk, is one of gratitude and pure joy.
“Dorthaan Kirk congratulations on your incredible achievement of making 80, I think that’s amazing, more importantly Congratulations on an amazing life of contributing to the incredible music of jazz and to being an incredible inspiration to us all.”
“Dorthaan’s, maybe she’ll take a break, but she’s not going to retire, how can she retire she’s part of this music, how can she retire? We wont let her retire.”
“Hip-hip hooray for jazz and Dorthaan at eighty, bright moments bright moments, like now.”