‘Word Jazz’ Artist Ken Nordine Dies at 98

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Ken Nordine, a spoken-word and voiceover artist strongly influenced by jazz, died on Feb. 16 in Chicago. He was 98. The news of his passing was posted by Chicago public radio station WBEZ, where Nordine hosted a show for more than 40 years.

Generations of fans could recognize the distinctive sound of Nordine’s baritone voice, which he employed as the host of a unique radio show titled Word Jazz. On the WBEZ program, Nordine would deliver creative verbal riffs and merge them with sound effects.

He was twice nominated for a Grammy. His album Stare With Your Ears (1979) was among the recordings nominated in the Grammy category Best Spoken Word, Documentary or Drama Recording. His album Devout Catalyst (1992) was nominated in the category Best Spoken Word or Non-Musical Album. Nordine’s collaborators on the latter album included musicians Jerry Garcia, Tom Waits, David Grisman and Howard Levy.

Nordine’s discography includes a series of “Word Jazz” albums and a 2005 DVD, The Eye Is Never Filled: Word Jazz In Morphing Pictures.

Among the other artists with whom Nordine collaborated is Laurie Anderson, who considers him a key influence on her performance art.

Early in his career, he briefly hosted a program (on another Chicago radio station, WBBM) titled Nordine Now, on which he interviewed Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and other musicians.

Nordine also did voiceover work for movie trailers and radio advertisements.

Nordine was born in Cherokee, Iowa, and grew up in Chicago.

Survivors include three children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. DB