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Ken Nordine the Word Jazz Impresario

Ken Nordine the Word Jazz Impresario

Date Posted: May 13 2011

Written By: Chicago Jazz

Chicagoan Ken Nordine has made a sixty-plus year career off of his nimble mind which is able to turn the mundane into clever, thought provoking ideas and vignettes and his deep, convincing voice, which brings his ideas to life, conveying vivid and colorful images that resonate with the listener. &media=news&topic=music" style="color: #154B83; text-decoration: none; background: #fff;"> Digg! deliciousBookmark it!

in his own words... Ken Nordine

Chicagoan Ken Nordine has made a sixty-plus year career off of his nimble mind––which is able to turn the mundane into clever, thought provoking ideas and vignettes––and his deep, convincing voice, which brings his ideas to life, conveying vivid and colorful images that resonate with the listener.

Primarily a voiceover artist, Nordine is best known for “Word Jazz,” which is his series of popular albums from the fifties, the name of his radio show and a description of the style employed by both. He admits that it was his album, Word Jazz, that gave him national exposure (in a TV special, Fred Astaire danced to the most popular track from the album, “My Baby”), but bristles at the comparison of his work to the Beat poets. Nordine embraces the classic poets and literary giants, and readily acknowledges his admiration of Kafka, Shakespeare, Joyce, Dylan Thomas and Omar Khayyam.

Over the years, Nordine’s resonant voice has also been featured in thousands of radio commercials and many movie trailers. Other notable work by Nordine includes The World’s Great Novels and other radio programs broadcast from Chicago as far back as the forties, “Shifting Whispering Sands,” a hit record he narrated for Billy Vaughan, his 1970s work as voice coach for Linda Blair in The Exorcist, his recordings with Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famers Tom Waits and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, and his long-running radio program, Word Jazz.

Not one to let age catch up with him, nonagenarian Nordine is currently busy developing Image Jazz projects––an amalgam of his Word Jazz audio to morphing computer images––is planning a multi-media theater presentation for this fall, and continues to produce his weekly program, Word Jazz, on WBEZ radio.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Tell us about your family life.

Ken Nordine: I was born in Cherokee, Iowa, but I came to Chicago with my very Swedish parents when I was three and a half. My father was a carpenter who became an architect by going to school at night at the Armour Institute on the South Side, which is now called the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Did your father being an architect have anything to do with your attending Lane Tech High School?

Nordine: Partly. My father was a lover of music; we had a family string quartet. I played fiddle, and then later on I played viola, because my two brothers played first and second and my dad played cello. I went to Lane Tech because they had the best orchestra. I think we won the prize for three or four years running, with a conductor by the name of Anderson. In fact, we won a national contest in Madison, Wisconsin, performing one of the old warhorses, Wagner’s Valkyrie. I remember it was a warm day in May and I slept that night, outside on the sloping lawn, with my violin, hugging it in my arms on the hill of the capitol in Madison. You could do that sort of thing when you were young back in those days.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Did you have any career aspirations in music when you were in high school?

Nordine: I took lessons from a guy by the name of Girvin, and he had me so pumped up––he had me thinking that I would become a concert violinist. I learned and memorized all sorts of concertos, for example, the Mendelssohn in E minor and the Bruch G minor. I took about four lessons a week and practiced eight hours a day. I think about it now––I could’ve become maybe a good second violin player in the Grand Rapids Symphony. Oh, by the way the little town I was born in, Cherokee, Iowa––it’s population was about 5,000, and that’s a lie, because on the population sign they counted the 3,000 people that were in the state insane asylum on the hill, the Cherokee Mental Health Institute, a state-run psychiatric facility in Cherokee. For geriatric, drug addicts, the mentally ill, and criminally insane…renamed from the Iowa Lunatic Asylum to Cherokee Hospital. But what was more important––even stranger––I found out later it was one of the few small towns that has a symphony orchestra. But I decided to go into radio. It seemed like more fun, and I think I was more adept at it.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: What was your first job in radio?

Nordine: I started at WBEZ before it was the big station it is now. It was a public radio station. BEZ stood for board of education; we were on the air only two hours a week, only in public school classrooms. It was a small FM signal. Now, of course, it is a giant, all kinds of money being raised, all kinds of programming. I do a show there once a week on Sundays at midnight, called Word Jazz. But I began at BEZ, and one of my jobs was to run the mimeograph machine––for about fifteen dollars a week. But once I was there, I used the WBEZ stationery to get a job announcing at WBCM, Bay City, Michigan, where I learned not to fluff reading the news. Fluffing was what we called stumbles reading. I didn’t last too long at Bay City––the station manager got mad at me for playing two records at once and giving a prize to callers for knowing what was playing with what. The show was called Heat Wave. I used the stationery trick to get a new job. I wrote to three radio stations––one in Hilo, Hawaii, one in Colorado Springs and one in Palm Beach, Florida.

I got offers to go to each of the three from the little acetate recordings of my voice that I sent out. But they were too far away, two of them. So I drove an old guy in his car down to Jacksonville, Florida, and hitchhiked the rest of the way, to make it to West Palm Beach, where I got a job working the night shift. I started to write things that were Word Jazz. One of the earliest shows I did was called 8695, which was the phone number for the Palm Beach Exterminating Company. I’d make up little characters––“Rigor Mothis” was one, “Reticulartermes Flavipes” was another, and hungry “Terence Termite”––I had him eating a piano leg, while Chopin was being played. You would hear this magnified chomp, chomp, chomp––and it would be the termite eating the piano leg, and you would hear the piano crash and I would tell the listeners to get in touch with 8695 right away.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: But you had a classical upbringing musically. Where did the jazz part come in?

Nordine: Well, I loved jazz and I listened to Benny Goodman––he was big at the time. They were marvelous. It was free and easy. I don’t know if you have to have a certain kind of re-education to move from classical into jazz as a violin player, which I never bothered to do, because there were so many great jazz violinists: Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt’s group, Eddie South––tremendous players––Johnny Frigo, a guy in Chicago. He’s gone now, but he did some beautiful things. He wrote one song that got kind of popular, “Detour Ahead.” Quite a guy. He and Dick Marx got me started, because I was friendly with both of them; we did a lot of commercials together. They played their particular kind of jazz at a little joint called the Lei Aloha, which was on the North Side, on Mondays and Tuesdays; the rest of the week it was Hawaiian. I would sit in, verbally, with Dick and Johnny when Lucy Reed wasn’t singing “Love for Sale.” I read poems I’d memorized. Dick Marx was a piano player; he was the father of Richard Marx, who we know of today. He was very successful and did a lot of commercials.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Dick Marx virtually owned the Chicago voiceover market.

Nordine: Oh, he was the man. But that’s all gone now. I don’t know where, I think it’s all gone to the computers that everybody has in their homes.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Was Dick Marx your entrée into voiceover work?

Nordine: Well, I did a lot of things for him and I loved the way he played, because he was just a monster of a player. So I would sit in and make things up. And I recorded some of the things we did with a guy by the name of Jim Cunningham. He had a studio in a basement in Highland Park. We did a lot of the early Word Jazz, almost in the form of what was called musique concrete, which is a French name for cutting up tapes and putting them together in a kind of Jackson Pollack random pattern. Some of the early things that I did actually happened with Dot Records, because I had done “Shifting Whispering Sands” with Bill Putnam in his studio in Chicago, Universal, and it became a hit for Dot Records with Billy Vaughan. And after it hit, they said, Have you got anything else? We’ll put that out. So they put out the first album, Word Jazz, which was called “a somewhat new medium.” Funny, these were the fun things that I had done in the basement studio with Jim Cunningham.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: When was this?

Nordine: This was 1956 or ’57, and it was immediately “Hollywood-ized.” I got a call from Fred Astaire’s choreographer, Hermes Pan, to fly out to the Coast. He was going to, and did, dance to “My Baby,” which was a play on the fact that the word “baby” is used all the time in popular music––“I love my baby, my baby loves me.” It was a kind of a tongue-in-cheek groove, in which the baby was actually a baby! In the surprise end of “My Baby” you hear my little son, Kevin, who was two and a half at the time. Actually, he went, Dad a do doo doo doo doo. He did sort of a scat thing, after which I quietly said, “Waiter, two glasses of warm milk.” Barrie Chase lip-synced the baby-talk scat and it was just beautiful. She was just like a dancing rubber band, and of course the two of them together was amazing. Astaire was a very shy, well mannered, and beautiful performer, really. I was in seventh heaven. Search Fred Astaire’s name for the bit on YouTube.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: How big a label was Dot?

Nordine: Well, they were doing quite well at the time. They were bought by Gulf & Western, and now Universal Music owns the masters. A few years ago they did a boxed set of all four albums that I did for Dot, plus a half album that was just sitting there. It’s a beautiful boxed set, but I don’t know what’s happening to it now. It has Word Jazz, Son of Word Jazz, Next and Volume 2, and then the extra cuts. It’s very interesting that now it’s being ripped off by guys in the UK and Australia on the Internet, and I think the union and I know the record companies are fighting, because these are scam charlatans who rip off not only the record companies and the talent, but the people. They are selling something they don’t own. Like Bernie Madoff. Evildoers! [laughs]

Chicago Jazz Magazine: So the album Word Jazz gave you national exposure. Was that was what really put Ken Nordine on the map, nationally?

Nordine: Yes. They wanted me to stay out on the West Coast––I did a Word Jazz concert out there––then they wanted me to stay in New York. I was wanted in both places. I guess I’m a hopeless Midwesterner. Out in Hollywood there was marvelous talent and great people, but for every great talent there were about 999 flakes––Like, hey, I got this script, ya know. They’re dreamers, they’re hopers; some of them will never make it. In New York it was a very fast paced. I did a thing there for Monitor Radio, which was fun, but it was away from home and the kids, and I wanted to stay a family man, so I said I can’t. There was no freedom to do what I wanted to do, which was to write.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: In a way, you have followed in your father’s footsteps, in that, just as in architecture, Word Jazz requires using both the artistic and intellectual parts of the brain.

Nordine: That’s true. Here’s the best way to describe the appeal of jazz in terms of Word Jazz: I think of the jazz artist as working within certain changes that everybody agrees on. They know the key, they know the changes to the tune they’re doing, they have that structure, and then they take off within that structure, playing as close to the melody as they want to, or as far away; but always coming back, and always being in tune with each other, and never hogging the whole thing themselves. They listen to the other guy or they won’t be with the group very long. There is a harmony that is involved with freedom and the structure. The same thing is true with writing.

For example, someone asked me, How do you write? Well, that’s a tough question, because you really have to learn to by yourself. Very few people are taught to write; I guess you become addicted to writing. You can start with a simple sentence: “Call your mother.” That’s the first paragraph. Or, “It was an awful day”––that’s another way, or, “It was a wonderful day.” Or you can lift something from another writer. One that I like was Kafka. He wrote the shortest short story that has ever been––eight words––which were, “A cage went in search of a bird.” Well, that’s your first paragraph. The second paragraph explains how you feel about the first paragraph, depending on whether you’re the bird or the cage or, Whoever thought of such an absurd thing as a birdcage that a bird would want to be in? Because he can’t go anywhere––he’s safe from cats, that’s true. You can go as far as you would like to into it. So that’s the second paragraph. The third paragraph is where you’re really taking off, and you’re explaining why you’re explaining. That’s the longest paragraph, and that lasts as long as you can stay awake. [laughs]

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Do you have a strong background in literature?

Nordine: Just in memorizing poems. I memorized the entire Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Come, fill the Cup in the Fire of Spring / The Winter Garment of Repentance fling / The Bird of Time has but a little way / To fly––and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing. One that’s the most poignant when you get as old as I am is:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold / When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang / Upon those boughs which shake against the cold… That’s from one of the sonnets from Shakespeare. That kind of writing can become encrypted, as it were, in the mind––the rhythms of it. And Dylan Thomas is an example. He writes in a seven beat rhythm: In my craft and sullen art /Exercised in the still night/When only the moon rages / And the lovers lie abed / With all their griefs in their arms / I labor by singing light… The rhythm of it is such that it is easily memorized. That’s true of all beautifully put together poetry.

So I inundated myself with a lot of that. Then, of course, I always admired someone who’d break out from the normal––Joyce, for example. He got in trouble in Dublin because he wrote little short stories that were poignantly true, but he would mention the names––or even if he didn’t mention the names, everyone in Dublin knew who he was talking about. So the ruby Dubs finally ran him out of town. Because he would maybe write about some guy who was a drunk in a bar who would go home and beat his wife after he’d been bested in an argument in the saloon.

The reader would know, Hey, that’s Harrigan. Yeah? How do you know that? Finally Joyce had to leave town, so he left and went to France. He got really hung up on Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, which were a taking off with the language, using words almost as iconic toys that you would play with. It was marvelous. He’d write things like “the ineluctable modality of the visible, at least that if nothing more,” or “If you can put your five fingers through it it is a gate, if not, a door.”

All these things were going on in his mind––or in the minds of his characters––in that case Stephen Dedalus. Or Buck Mulligan was another of the characters that allowed Joyce to do what he did with so well. He did “The Ballad of the Joking Jesus,” which came out of Buck Mulligan’s mouth just to bait Jesuit-schooled Stephen: I’m the queerest young fellow that ever you heard / My mother’s a Jew. My father’s a bird / With Joseph the Joiner I cannot agree / So here’s to disciples and Calvary… Well, that sort of writing back then probably got his book banned. They had a big trial in Boston because they considered it not only irreligious, but just evil.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Joyce’s use of the language and his stream-of-consciousness writing has a strong connection to jazz and improvisation.

Nordine: Yes, but that’s the beauty of an artist. Like Howard Levy––he has such control of the way he plays. Ingrained in his playing are impulses that have been encrypted in his mind so that his fingers and the piano are a language to him. He isn’t looking for how to do it; he’s looking for what to say and how to say it. That’s the truth of all great musicians. Miles, for example, did that; Coltrane did that. They’re gone, but they’re very much still here. The instinct to be free within structure is innate in all of us.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: In addition to words, ideas and a music background, you have a great set of pipes.

Nordine: Well, that was a gift. Voice is learning how to elide. Musically, I play the throat and the brain. There’s two kinds of writing––to be said or read. Some literary writing is pretty hard to read aloud. Although Joyce’s work comes closer, literary writing most of the time is not written for the voice; it’s written for the logic of the grammar. Voice alone has a tone and inflection that no printed word has. Think of the countless ways you can say the word “oh.” [pronounces “oh” in several different ways]

There’s so many things that can happen in the vibrating language that goes to your ear that is different from the printed language, that goes to your optic nerves and then into your mind. So, in many instances, I’ll lay down a track now which you might call an attitude of The world is a wonderful thing. Then I’ll lay down a contrary voice that goes, Wait a minute––there’s quakes and tsunamis. You’re ignoring the awful things that can happen.

So you have the conflict and you actually aid and abet, or you can be cynical, or you can laugh. I did one thing about a guy talking about his troubles: Oh, nobody likes me at the office––they’re out to get me. And behind this, you hear this woman laughing, and she’s laughing as if you’re telling her the silliest thing that she’s ever heard. Well, that’s a very human thing. I’ll never forget one time I was at a stoplight. It was in the summertime, and in the car next to me, a convertible with the top down, a thin guy and a fat gal were arguing. And you could see that they were so mad, and I looked over and it just struck me as funny, and I laughed. And I made a terrible mistake, because immediately they thought I was criticizing them.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: You can convey things with your voice that other people––even someone with the same caliber instrument––might not be able to convey. How did you accomplish that––with classes?

Nordine: That’s flattering. No, I went to the school of speech at Northwestern University for about one week and thought, Oh, this is not for me. I left there and went to the University of Chicago. When I was there I started something for me and other students, where we had a radio workshop where we were able play around in the studio––after all, college is supposed to be a playground for the mind. So that was a wonderful training. I think that, combined with reading––reading in such a way that you inflect the intelligence of what you’re saying or the emotion of what your saying––makes you emotionally naked to the person that you’re delivering the message to. It’s an amazing thing.

I used to wonder how birds learned their chirping. Did you ever slow a bird chirping way down? Their little chirps become symphonies! Tom Waits sent me a cricket thing that he did. He slowed the crickets down and I’ll be damned if it didn’t sound like Mahler. There are things in sound that are just fascinating. We slowed down a water drop by about eight octaves until, instead of being a drip, drip, drip, it would be a big, big KABOOOOM.

I did a thing called the “Tick-Tock Fugue,” in which we slowed down a clock, Jim Cunningham and I. We slowed it down until the “tick” and the “tock” were about three octaves lower. It was very low––lower than a bass in a way––it was almost wall-trembling. Then we put it at a different speed––maybe an octave above––so there was a combination of three or four levels of ticking. On top of that, I did a Word Jazz about “tick” and “tock”: maybe Tick and Tock are friends, and Tick is trying to explain something to Tock about the nature of now, because that’s what they were involved with. That’s the sort of thing that I like to think about. I wrote a thing called the “The Wow of Now,” for a London magazine in which I asked how do you know how long any NOW really is.

The fastest thing I could think of then was a nanosecond, a billionth of a second. Well, it’s awfully hard to measure, but if you do measure it in light speed, one nanosecond is one foot of light. That’s long enough to have a beginning, a middle and an end. So NOW has a past, a present and a future, because of its length. Anything a foot long has a history. Then you begin to wonder, Does it have any dimension? Or are we always somewhere between memory and hope?

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Once you’ve said now, it’s over––it’s a new now.

Nordine: That’s right. I think the real now is perpendicular to eternity. Nanosecond, attosecond or zeptoseconds: physicists divide time up very, very precisely. I knew a physicist at the University of Chicago. He’s gone on, but Robert Zitter worked on bismuth crystals––he put them as close to absolute zero as he could, in a non-gravitational field; and I accused him of torturing bismuth crystals. And he laughed, as we had another beer.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: To what degree do you think languages are onomatopoeiaic?

Nordine: Well, the Indians do that. There’s a Kinnikinnick river near Milwaukee. Kinnikinnick was the name the Indians gave it because of the sound the water made as it was coming over the rapids. But there are many differences in how languages develop. Take French––there’s an entirely different feel to the language. It’s faster, it takes a third more words to say the same thing in French as in English.

There are other languages, like Chinese, that are entirely different––sounds that give it an entirely different feeling. That’s probably where the Tower of Babel came from, the division of languages from geographic isolation. That even happens a little bit in given countries––you have different accents where some people in India, I’m sure, have trouble understanding other people in India. And some accents are more singsong.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: You were part of the thriving commercial scene in Chicago. When was that “golden era”?

Nordine: Fifties, sixties, seventies. I admire the work that was done commercially; there’s some brilliant things that were done. There still are.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: For voiceover work, were you typically given scripts ahead of time or would you rehearse on-site?

Nordine: Well, I wouldn’t rehearse, but we were given scripts. You learned to be fast at reading, but you have to take direction. I did some hard sell, some soft sell. I tried my best to sound like myself, but at the same time to placate the direction of anybody that I was working with.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: What makes a great voiceover announcer?

Nordine: Someone that gets the message across. Really gets the message across. And that sounds very simple and deceptively so, as if they’re really talking to you. Part of that is elision: I am going to see a good friend. Well, you could say it that way, but it’s easier to say, I’m gonna see a good friend. The “gonna” for “going to” is spelt G-O-N-N-A, so there’s quite a difference. There are elisions made, just as there are if you look at things visually. There are moments when the look on your face is very strange because you’re in between words. And if you freeze-frame that moment you can make someone look very goofy––because we don’t think of those moments. You presume that you’re seeing everything most of the time, but you’re not. When your eye pans from one thing to another it’s momentarily blind––it’s nothing but a blur when your eye pans to see something else. But we make an inductive leap. But spoken language just flows.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Any recommendations for someone who aspires to go into that field? How they can improve their craft?

Nordine: Persistence is the best thing in the world. Persistence is the mother of saying, Well, this guy really wants to do that, because it’s partly social, it’s partly knowing what is expected of you, it’s partly just practice. If you continue to do something long enough you can get to the point that it’s easier.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Is it true that you were commissioned by a paint company to do a radio commercial series that became the album Colors?

Nordine: Yes. They said, You have to write something within the parameters of “paint,” and you have to mention our name. And they had a slogan: “A century of leadership in the chemistry of color.” Well, how many colors do you want me to do? They said to do ten of them. So for yellow I had some quiet symphonic “spacey” music––very simple. I wrote, “In the beginning, long before, when light was deciding who would be in or out of the spectrum, Yellow was in serious trouble. Green didn’t want Yellow in––some primal envy I suppose. But for some reason, Yellow wept yellow tears for several eternals––before there were years––until Blue came along and said, ‘What’s the trouble?’ And Yellow told him about Green, and Blue said, ‘Let me talk with Green.’ Blue got together with Green and said, ‘Ya know, if Yellow and I get together we won’t need Green.’ ‘OH!,’ said Green, with some understanding. It worked out fine––Yellow got lemons and Green got limes. The Fuller Paint Company––a century of leadership in the chemistry of color.”

Chicago Jazz Magazine: The paint company tag line is not on the album.

Nordine: No, here’s what happened there. It was on the air for thirteen weeks, and people would call up and say, Play that again. The Fuller Paint Company took it off the air, even though they loved what I did. So I said, that’s too bad. So I wrote thirty-four “colors” and came out with an album. The company that had the lease went out of business, so the lease on the album has come back to me. Now I’ve got a law firm looking at it because it’s being infringed upon on by someone on Amazon. They’ll get a phone call. We’ll see what happens there. But that’s what I do––like I did for Yellow––I play with the language.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Do you own any of your albums?

Nordine: I own Devout Catalyst, which I did with Jerry Garcia, I own Colors, I own Triple Talk, I own Transparent Mask. Of course, I’m talent and have residual rights with Dot Records, which are also being ripped off, but Universal Music is working on that too. But that’s not a problem with me, because I saved my money as a kid. But at the same time I don’t like evildoers. But it’s much larger than that. The Beatles’ library, Elvis Presley’s library––they’re all being infringed upon, and they and the musicians union and the record companies are up in arms about that. It’s caused by greed, charlatans and greedy evildoers.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: What is your current project?

Nordine: Well there are several. A few years ago I finished a DVD called the Eye is Never Filled. I’m going to put it with some stuff I’m putting together now and maybe do an evening in a movie theater. It might be fun to actually sit in an easy chair in front of the big screen and talk to the audience, and have the chair turn around 180 degrees, as things I’ve done with Image Jazz hit the silver screen. There might also be a video camera that could superimpose me over the images on the screen, while I explain the fun and games. That’s something I have in mind.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Didn’t you play God one time in the theater?

Nordine: Yeah, in the nineties in London at the Royal Festival Hall, at a two-week festival curated by performance artist Laurie Anderson. Laurie’s a good friend, so in a skit we did together she was Mrs. God and I was God, and we were arguing about what to do with creation. And I was saying, “Why don’t we tell everybody I’m on autopilot; that I’m busy and I know that they believe in prayer, and I’ll answer them when I get around to it.” [laughs]

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Tell us about how you have added moving images to Word Jazz.

Nordine: That’s what I’ve been calling “Image Jazz.” Image Jazz plays with vector math. Vector math addresses each pixel in the image and allows you to change its color and position in the picture so that you can create beautiful morphing images. You can create things that look like they are LSD-prompted, but it’s legal! It’s nothing but playing with a three-dimensional XYZ of the pixels that are on the screen, and have gone beautifully morphing mad!

Chicago Jazz Magazine: What does it allow you to do that you could not accomplish with words alone?

Nordine: What it allows you to do, is to take the nature of the dreams you dream and body them forth in a real world, so that you can create dreamlike situations, that have the same feel as the dream world does. Ever notice how when you wake up from a dream it’s very, very clear and then it slowly fades? Imagine how many dreams have faded away that were once so vivid.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: So, in a sense, you’re a surrealist artist.

Nordine: Most of the still pictures that you see are just that, still pictures. And the books you read are printed words on the page that are never going to change. But in music there’s constant change––and there’s constant change in Image Jazz or with music done to what you might call “color organ,” which many people have thought of doing. There have been all sorts of ways that has been done––they’ve taken crystals and put lights through them, to bend the light and change it. So that type of thing is very much with us, and there’s things that you see in nature all the time. There was a ripple machine that I saw with Doc Zitter in New York at a physics convention. It was a fabulous thing––it was a shallow tray of water, four feet by four feet. And cams in each corner caused conflicting ripples, so you could actually see ripples on this side moving across with ripples from the other side, which they graphed out and, in effect, they were playing with the nature of waves.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: In your Image Jazz presentations is the entire production your own?

Nordine: Well, if you’re going to do Image Jazz in a movie theater you have to have some 35mm motion film to project, like the opening trailers I have done for over forty years for the Chicago Film Festival. And also some of the project will be in digital form. I do it myself on most of these things with complex software in the Apple G5. But you can’t compare what I do with motion picture films, which is a very conservative business. Lots of helpers, with many diversified talents playing many diversified roles––that’s Hollywood. They have stars, and they have people who do the soundtrack, people who shoot the film, people who put the film together, people who market the film… it’s a big business. Something like Image Jazz doesn’t fit that mold. They’ll say, How does that fit in? Who’s the star? Is it an X wave moving into a Y wave? Is it a blonde or a brunette? Is there any “sexy” in there? Where’s the chase? Because they’re out to make money, and when they do a film––God love them––that’s what they’re all about. They do a film for a lot of millions, and they promote it with a lot of millions––there’s a big business involved.

Chicago Jazz Magazine: Aside from accompanying jazz music, what makes Image Jazz images jazz-like?

Nordine: Image Jazz involves software that plays with images to do things mathematically that you normally don’t see. You don’t really see images become truly abstract unless one changing image morphs into another, and you can look at them become graphically free flowing with surprise. We like things to be the way they are so we can see where we are. But in the imaginary we live in a totally abstract world, and we can’t simplify it. We like to simplify things, like, Oh, that is solid––I know that. That isn’t solid. I can see that this is farther away from me than that. We have depth perception. There’s so many things that we do for our safety: in the dark you have to be very careful when you’re walking, but then you know that the dark is always there. You can create virtual worlds that are different than the world we’re actually in. And if we accept them for that––as entertainment––it’s perfectly all right. But if you think they’re real, you better leave surreal and come back and see where you are. Wake up and smell the coffee!

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