Ken Nordine’s debut LP from 1957, Word Jazz, belongs to two histories. While interconnected, one is momentary - capturing the close and incredibly important alignment between jazz and poetry that emerged during the 1950s and 60s - while the other is transient and progressive, belonging to a continuum that still exists today. It stands alongside similar albums like those capturing Jack Kerouac’s work with Steve Allen, Kenneth Rexroth and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s collaborations with The Cellar Jazz Quintet, and Langston Hughes’s effort with Leonard Feather, as rare documents of an idiom that was most often encountered live, and laid crucial groundwork for later hybrids developed by Amiri Baraka, Sun Ra, Gill Scott-Heron, and The Last Poets, all of whom set foundations for development of hip hop.
Much of Nordine life was spent working as a professional voice over artist in film and television, but during the 1950s, his passion for jazz led him to embark on a series of albums that bridged free form speech and spoken poetics with accompanying sound. Later brought into the consciousness of new generation due to his inclusion on The Beat Generation Box set - issued by Rhino Records in 1992 - Word Jazz deploys a remarkable mix of vocal narration, sort of zen-beatnik texts, and West Coast Jazz arrangements curated by an incredible ensemble led by the cellist Fred Katz, and featuring soon to be stars, Paul Horn on sax, flute and clarinet, and Chico Hamilton on drums and percussion.
A wonderful and immersive experience in listening, as well as hugely important on historical terms, Word Jazz is one of the great overlooked documents of the beginning of poetry’s long relationship with jazz. This one’s been out of print for decades, and is a welcome return to its original format. Highly recommended!