There is no voice like Ken Nordine’s. We finished up our KEXP Documentary series “Poets and Music” with a profile of the great word artist. You may not know his name, but you know his voice. He’s been all over radio and tv since 1938. Doing big campaigns like Tasters Choice, Levis and tons of movie trailers. He’s influenced great musicians like Bowie, Laurie Anderson and Tom Waits.
He started making recordings with music in his basement in the 1950s. He called his mix of voice and improvised music “word jazz”. And his volumes of word jazz, along with his famous exploration of paint hues called “Colors” are cult favorites with alternative musicians, poets and voice artist the world over.
I found Ken Nordine in the late 90s, while working night shift at KCMU (now KEXP). As soon as I put on the first track, I was hooked by the intimacy of the recordings, the silliness and profundity of the writing, and its mix with music. It was so very surreal to talk to Ken on the phone. In the middle of the conversation he started talking to someone else, I think it was his cat. And he told me about his new experiments with video on YouTube. Now in his 90s, Ken Nordine hosts a weekly radio show in Chicago. And is still on the cutting edge of poetry mixed with music.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers with assistance from John Felthous, Tiffany Grobelski, Mary Janisch and Executive Producer Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.