Most Americans are probably familiar with Ken Nordine, even if they don't know it. His rich, deep baritone graces numerous television and radio ads. His most creative work, however, is reserved for his "word jazz," which marries liquid, free-association ruminations with jazzy instrumental backing. Active in radio since the 1950s, he's recorded numerous albums and syndicated broadcasts, and has even collaborated with the Grateful Dead.
Nordine got his start as a radio and television personality in Chicago, were he would sometimes do his raps over jazz records on his poetry show. His first Word Jazz album, from 1957, utilized the Chico Hamilton band (working under the alias of the Fred Katz group). This led to a series of Word Jazz recordings, which -- like the beat poetry from the same era -- looked beyond the conformity of the 1950s to more imaginative and colorful worlds, ones that had room for fantasy and irrationality, and not just mundane reality. He's recorded sporadically ever since, although he does studio recordings as a sideline to his work in radio and commercials. Nordine's soundscapes are best experienced not on his relatively few commercial recordings, but on his syndicated radio shows, 375 of which are available on cassette from Snail Records, Box 285-8C2, Florence, WI 54121. ~ Richie Unterberger
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