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Hirschel Knotts Dies

Legendary swing and soul saxophonist Hirschel “Saxomophone” Knotts descended into ancestry this morning at an undisclosed location in Brooklyn, NY. Knotts’ death was caused by a forceful blow to the head he received from the slide on Slouch Armstrong’s trombone at the climactic end of a secret, sundown to sunup jam session. He was either 78 or 79. Or maybe 80.

Controversy swells as rumors spread this morning about Knotts’ death. Some suggest Armstrong deliberately killed Knotts, though not in malice, but in sympathy. Members of the saxophonist’s family stated that Knotts had been reading too many Stanley Crouch essays of late and had become depressed; they believe Knotts asked Armstrong to kill him, calling it “assisted suislide.”

Knotts was born in Phoebus, a section of Hampton, Va. His mother Silvia died directly after his birth, leaving his father, Hirschel Sr., to raise his son alone. Hirschel Sr. bought a three-year-old Knotts his first instrument during a vacation in New England, a copper penny whistle Knotts later used to write “Capeside, Mass. is Where My Baby Lays,” a slow blues he would record over and over and over and over again for labels like Majestic and Unitonalite.

Knotts cut his teeth on early professional gigs with the Willie Nitzer Big Band and the Loomis-Gluba Orchestra before leaving the swing scene to concentrate on groovier material. The sides Knotts cut with bassist Hambone Hawes and drummer Tane Norris in the late 1960s remain classic examples of soul-jazz groove with generous amounts of bebop style soloing. Knotts will best be remembered, however, for his jukebox-rattling, double A-side hit from 1972: “Employment and Enjoyment,” a sweaty barn burner with “Rhythm” changes backed with Knotts’ nick-namesake tune, “Saxomophone,” featuring the crossover friendly, sing-along chorus of “Stamina, bones and saxophones, please/we only speak in saxomophonese.”

After losing a bet in 1975 to spoken-word poet George “Triple Threat” Hall, a humiliated Knotts was forced to move to France. Fresco Records lured him back to the U.S. in March in order to select tracks and record new material for a box set.

Knotts’ family members wished not to be named as survivors. “He was kind of a jerk, actually” his son said. “And a bit of a fool.”

Originally Published