Les Baxter was a visionary composer, conductor, pianist and arranger who recorded some of the most innovative popular music of his time, influencing countless artists along the way, with names ranging from Nat King Cole to Jefferson Airplane.
His monster discography spans over fifty years, in which time he wrote over 150 soundtracks (concentrating on horror & teenage musicals/comedy), arranged for the top swing bands of the ’40s and ’50s and, perhaps more notably, founded his own style of easy listening music, known as exotica.
I dare say this well-known genre is something you are familiar with, but what defines this sound? Exotica is a variation of easy listening that glorified the sounds and styles of Polynesia, Africa, and South America, even as it retained the traditional string-and-horn arrangements of instrumental pop. Exotica became a massively popular trend in the ’50s, with thousands of record buyers listening to Baxter, Martin Denny, and their imitators. Baxter also pioneered the use of the electronic instrument the theremin, which has a haunting, howling sound.
Baxter studied piano at College in Los Angeles, but when he left he turned his interest into singing and when he was 23 he joined Mel Tormé’s Mel-Tones. In 1950, he became an arranger and conductor for Capitol Records, working on hits by Nat King Cole and it was around this time that he began recording his own albums. In 1948, he released a triple-78 album called Music out of the Moon, which ushered in space-age pop with its use of the theremin. Four years later, he began recording exotica albums with Le Sacre du Sauvage.
On his early-’50s singles Baxter was relatively straightforward, performing versions of standards like the number one hits Unchained Melody and The Poor People of Paris, but on his albums he experimented with all sorts of world music’s, adapting them for his orchestra.
Baxter’s heyday was in the ’50s and ’60s and, although he continued to compose and record in the ’70s, his output was sporadic. Nevertheless, he continued right up until the1990’s, gathering a large cult following in that time!…and beyond!
Released as the b-side to his 1952 single, Indian Summer, Les Baxter’s Quiet Village exudes intensely delectable tones of space-age bliss, nourishing my ears with its soothing tones.. I love this music and love how my brain can escape from any chaos with a bit of Les doing its thing in the background!