Monday, March 30, 2009

Ken Nordine on Night Music

I used to listen to Ken Nordine thirty years ago on NPR when he had a wonderful series called "Word Jazz." I remember some incredibly imaginative programs in which he talked to a room full of characters. The catch was, all of them were Ken Nordine. Yeah, he talked/argued with himself. He also grafted familiar sounds together and made cassettes that contained music and dialogue from old movies and radio shows, only they merged in a theme like "Welcome Home," or "Dreams." Why did I stop listening to Ken Nordine? I'm not sure. Maybe the world drowned him out, or my hearing became so bad, it was no longer fun to listen to him. I was deaf for a long time and stopped listening to a lot of things - good music, old radio shows, Garrison Keillor. Well, I have a cochlear implant and i can hear again. It isn't the same, but it is pretty close. Bit by bit, I have been reclaiming the old wonderful sounds, and now, a week ago, his name went through my mind. "Ken Nordine." What happened to him? I put his name on Google and found "Night Music." I know it may not be "your cup of tea," but, damn, there he is! Over 80 years old and that wonderful voice that some people compare to warm chocolate. Is this poetry? Yeah, for me, it is.


  1. The first time I watched it I was concentrating too hard on the voice that sounded so familiar yet I couldn't place where I'd heard it before. I watched a second time for the content and allowed myself to imagine who else I'd like to be. First thing that came to me was my Siamese cat, Jasmine. How I'd love to be in her head knowing what she is thinking when see stares at me while I tell her how beautiful she is and what a good cat she is. Then other brains that I'd like to be privy too started lining up: Beethoven; Goya; Jane Austen, etc.


  2. I picked up a copy of the "Word Jazz" LP in a thrift store some 15-20 years ago. Loved it... in some instances he seemed such a pioneer. Frenetic poet matched with noise and some very strange personalities. This during the staid 1950s. I dare say he paved the way for Captain Beefheart and other "out there" artists.

    One bit in particular features a psychological "sound portrait" of a person who had spent years working in an office setting. The clip was some now-archaic IBM equipment chopping away interspersed with sounds of children singing. It struck me as perhaps an early example of "industrial" music made popular decades later by goth punk-rockers.

    I also did a bit of research some years ago now, when the internet was young, and found a CD called "Upper Limbo" which was released on a label operated by the Grateful Dead. So, yeah, he was/is hip in a very subdued and underground way.

    Ken Nordine, God bless you!

  3. Vance,
    Do you remember a marvelous cassette that he did which consisted of famous lines from old movies?
    I remember Louis Armstrong was on it singing "It's A Wonderful World," and a song called "Welcome Home!" and maybe a bit from Wizard of Oz. I wonder what I did with mine.

  4. Gary,

    Yep, I remember Ken Nordine. He totally blew my
    tender, teenaged mind back in, I think, the mid-50s. I remember going to a record store in
    Pasadena, California and listening to "Word Jazz" and "Song of Word Jazz" in one of those little booths. Then I bought the LPs and damn
    near memorized everything on them. I lived through the hallucinogenic 60s but never met anybody as "far out" as Nordine. He was simply


  5. Yeah, that is the Nordine that I remember, too. I didn't realize that he went all of the way back to the 50's. I remember listening to him in the 70's when he had long complicated conversations with himself that were often a little frightening.

  6. I checked out Nordine on Wikipedia, and sure enough, he cut Word Jazz and Son of Word Jazz
    in 1957 and 1958, respectively. Some critics
    associated him with the beats and poetry-and-jazz. I remember well that jazz background.
    It was Chico Hamilton and his group. Anyway,
    for me Nordine was the essence of "cool."


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