Ken Nordine  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"Ken Nordine attracted wide attention when he recorded the aural vignettes on Word Jazz (Dot Records, 1957). Word Jazz, Son of Word Jazz (Dot, 1958) and his other albums in this vein feature Nordine's narration over cool jazz by the Chico Hamilton jazz group, recording under the alias of Fred Katz, who was then the cellist with Hamilton's quintet." --Sholem Stein

"The Word Jazz albums inspired Tom Waits' spooky, spoken word-type pieces, such as "9th and Hennepin," "Franks Wild Years" and "What's He Building in There?"." --Sholem Stein

Related e



Ken Nordine (April 13, 1920 – February 16, 2019) was an American voice artist, best known for his series of spoken word jazz poetry albums such as Word Jazz (1957). His deep, resonant voice has also been featured in many commercial advertisements and movie trailers. He also recorded a version of Balzac's risque story "A Passion in the Desert" (1955).


Life and career

The son of Theresia (Danielson) and Nore S. Nordine, a contractor, Ken Nordine was born in Cherokee, Iowa. His parents were Swedish. The family later moved to Chicago, where he attended Lane Technical College Prep High School and the University of Chicago. During the 1940s, he was heard on The World's Great Novels and other radio programs broadcast from Chicago. One of which, Honore de Balzac's short story "Une passion dans le désert", was recorded for the 1955 album Passion in the Desert. In 1955, he provided the voiceover on Billy Vaughn's version of "Shifting Whispering Sands", which peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. He subsequently attracted wider attention when he recorded the aural vignettes on Word Jazz (Dot, 1957). Love Words, Son of Word Jazz (Dot, 1958) and his other albums in this vein feature Nordine's narration over cool jazz by the Fred Katz Group featuring Chico Hamilton recording under an alias.

Nordine began performing and recording such albums at the peak of the beat era and was associated with the poetry-and-jazz movement. However, it has been observed that some of Nordine's writings "are more akin to Franz Kafka or Edgar Allan Poe" than to the beats. Many of his word jazz tracks feature critiques of societal norms. Some are lightweight and humorous, while others reveal dark, paranoid undercurrents and bizarre, dream-like scenarios. Nordine's DVD, The Eye Is Never Filled was released in 2007.

Nordine was in demand as a voiceover artist on commercials for several companies including the First Chicago Bank, Levi's, Gallo Wine and Magnavox amongst others.

In 1990, Nordine was approached by Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead to be the anchor for their New Year's Eve radio broadcast from Oakland, California. For the broadcast he recorded some improvisations with Garcia, drummer Mickey Hart and Egyptian musician Hamza El-Din. This subsequently lead to an album Devout Catalyst, released on the Grateful Dead's own label in 1991 and Upper Limbo in 1993 and appearances with the band such as their show at Rosemont, Illinois, in March 1993. Nordine hosted the weekly Word Jazz program on WBEZ for over forty years.

In 2007, he was a performer at the David Bowie-curated High Line Festival in New York.

With his wife, the former Beryl Vaughn, an actress whom he married in 1945, he had three sons. Beryl died April 26, 2016. Ken Nordine died February 16, 2019.

Films and television

Nordine appeared as the narrator, credited as "The Stranger", in Philip Kaufman's 1967 underground comedy Fearless Frank. He was also Linda Blair's vocal coach for her role in the 1973 film The Exorcist. Subsequently, Nordine filed a lawsuit, saying he was not properly compensated for his work, eventually settling in 1979.

Nordine narrated several films for classroom use, made by Coronet Instructional Films in the 1950s. In at least one, Developing Your Character, he appears on screen.

On television, Nordine did a series of readings on a show titled Faces in the Window on WNBQ, and Fred Astaire danced to Nordine's "My Baby" on a TV special. Nordine's past radio series were Now Nordine and Word Jazz. He also provided the opening narration for the music video of "Can You Feel It" by the Jacksons.

Nordine worked with author Maurice Sendak on Sesame Street, providing the narration for the animated segments "Bumble Ardy" and "Seven Monsters".

Nordine provided the voiceover for NewTek's Video Toaster demo reels, such as the 1991 "Revolution".

Selected discography

  • 1955 – Passion in the Desert
  • 1957 – Word Jazz
  • 1958 – Son of Word Jazz
  • 1958 – Love Words
  • 1959 – Next!
  • 1960 – Word Jazz Vol. II
  • 1967 – Colors
  • 1967 – Ken Nordine Does Robert Shure's Twink
  • 1979 – Stare with Your Ears
  • 1984 – Triple Talk
  • 1986 – Grandson of Word Jazz
  • 1991 – Devout Catalyst
  • 1993 – Upper Limbo
  • 2001 – Transparent Mask
  • 2007 – The Eye Is Never Filled (DVD, Snail)

See also

Tom Waits, Jerry Garcia, Dot Records, Over the Edge (radio program), Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album, Chico Hamilton, The Exorcist (film), Blue Thumb Records, Closed on Account of Rabies, Chartreuse (color), Hal Willner, Can You Feel It (The Jacksons song), Solid Steel, Meltdown (festival), Saidu Baba, Henry Jacobs, Paul Horn (musician), Vidiot, Asphodel Records, H. P. Lovecraft (band), Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, Miroslaw Rogala, Johnny Frigo, Xen Cuts, Cago, The Emperor of Ice-Cream, Excellent Italian Greyhound, Word Jazz, The Bath (EP), Sunday Night (U.S. TV program), Fibonacci numbers in popular culture, John Pisano, Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films, Dick Marx, Cube Quest, Jonny Trunk, Fantastic Animation Festival, List of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! episodes (1999), Easy A, Fearless Frank, Fred Katz (cellist), Dick Campbell (singer-songwriter), Stephen Emmer, Jerry Schaefer, DJ Food, The Search Engine, FM Records (Jazz/Folk), Shifting Whispering Sands, Love Words, Son of Word Jazz, Peter Madcat Ruth, John Barnes (film producer), Colors (Ken Nordine album), Island Venture (radio program)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ken Nordine" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools