|Country Of origin:||United States of America|
One of the most ubiquitous voices of his time, Ken Nordine became an active radio personality in the 1950s and his voice became more easily recognizable over the next several decades through his work as a narrator, voice-over actor, and through albums of fluid, jazz-backed free associative poetry he dubbed "word jazz". Nordine's voice was heard in countless radio and television ads, and his creative output ran in close parallel to the beat poetry movement. His smooth and often lighthearted spoken creations resulted in not just a series of Word Jazz albums, but the 1966 album Colors, in which Nordine attributed personality traits to 34 different colors in a song for each.
Nordine was born in Cherokee, Iowa in 1920. He relocated to Chicago, where he became involved in radio in the '40s and '50s, working mostly as a voice-over artist but also with a poetry show. In the mid-'50s when giving a reading of material by Edgar Allan Poe and T.S. Eliot, Nordine began improvising darkly humorous stories. This moment set the scene for his first forays into word jazz, and the first Word Jazz album came out in 1957. Backed by Chico Hamilton and his group working under the pseudonym the Fred Katz Group, Nordine's smooth baritone poems and lighthearted narratives were backed by hip jazz instrumentals. Word Jazz led to subsequent volumes of the series, including 1958's Son of Word Jazz and 1960's Word Jazz, Vol. 2. While often light or humorous in nature, there was a dark side to Nordine's poetry as well. Many of his compositions looked critically at society and human nature. In the early '60s Nordine was hired by the Fuller Paint Company to write and record ten poems about different colors that they would use as advertisements, Nordine's familiar voice and word style selling the different colors of paints. Nordine enjoyed this commission so much that he expanded the concept into 1966's Colors, where he free-associated poems dedicated to specific colors over airy jazz backgrounds. Over the years Nordine would collaborate with artists and celebrities of all stripes. This included work with Fred Astaire, Muppets creator Jim Henson, avant-garde multi-media artist Laurie Anderson, and he even had a stint in the early '90s that found him collaborating with members of the Grateful Dead, both in performance and on record. His syndicated radio show (also titled Word Jazz) ran for over 40 years, and he continued creative work in addition to his work in radio and television, releasing albums like 1979's Stare with Your Ears, 1984's synthy Triple Talk, and 2001's Transparent Mask. In 2007, he performed at the David Bowie-curated High Line Festival. Nordine died in Chicago in 2019 at the age of 98, having stayed active in performance and creative output right up until his final days. ~ Fred Thomas~ Rovi