The Sunday Edition

Listeners suggest their favourite 'word jazz' performers

Listeners react to our tribute to "word jazz" pioneer Ken Nordine. Michael's interview with Jack Chambers about Nordine inspired listeners to write to us about other radio performers who were influenced by Nordine, such as Joe Frank, Arthur Prysock, Larry Thor, Al "Jazzbo" Collins, and Canada's own Robbie Robertson.
A broadcast of jazz, improvised poetry and sound design drew listeners to Ken Nordine. (Kevin Yarr/CBC)

On last week's show we observed the recent death of Ken Nordine, at the age of 98, by re-broadcasting Michael's interview with linguist and jazz aficionado Jack Chambers about Ken Nordine.

Nordine improvised poetry and performed it in his rich, baritone voice, over a jazz accompaniment. He called it "Word Jazz," and he hosted a late-night radio show by that name for 40 years.

Listeners were inspired to write to us with their favourite "word jazz" performers.

Powel Crosley in Edmonton sent this:

"I was struck by the overlap of his style, voice, and skill with those of the late Joe Frank, whom I had also never heard of until he died. I guess growing up in a small town during the 60s and 70s, I was more interested in listening to Top 40 stations. I may not have appreciated their talents if I had heard them.  But I am grateful that we now have an internet archive of their distinctive gift for presenting spoken word."

Like Ken Nordine, Joe Frank also experimented with live radio featuring monologues and improvisations. He produced hundreds of programs for NPR in the United States. Here's a sample of his work:

This came from Moira Steven:

"Your segment on Ken Nordine brought to mind Arthur Prysock's 'This Is My Beloved', which I heard late one night in Montreal many years ago. The power of the human voice cannot be underestimated and I am glad to have experienced both these artists."


From Bruce Waldie in Winnipeg:

"If you would like to pursue another story with a more Canadian angle, try looking up Arnlelfur Lawrence Thorsteinson, a name which should roll right off your tongue! As Larry Thor, he became famous for the radio show 'Broadway is My Beat', which is the pinnacle where poetry meets police story. Larry Thor was born and raised in Lundar, just north of the Métis capital of the world, St. Laurent, in Manitoba. He worked in Canadian radio before moving to California, where he starred in numerous films and radio shows over the course of his career."

This is from David Greene in Toronto:

"As I listen to your piece about Ken Nordine and word jazz — I keep waiting to hear the name Al 'Jazzbo' Collins." Jazzbo Collins, of the legendary WNEW in New York. Here is Mr. Collins, with the pianist Lou Stein, performing 'The Three Little Pigs', as adapted by that other legend of Fifties hipness, Steve Allen.

From Christine Gloin in Toronto:

"Robbie Robertson also did a spoken word jazz-derived song on his first solo album. I think you might enjoy his combination of singing and spoken word in 'Somewhere Down the Crazy River'.  I know he must have listened to Nordine."


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