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Les Baxter

Biography

Les Baxter was an innovator of two forms of easy listening lounge music: exotica and space age pop. A fair jazz pianist, Baxter's real strengths were as an arranger. In the late 1940s, he started bringing exotic, percussion-heavy instrumentation together with lush, melodic strings and elements of big band swing. During this post-World War Two period, Baxter's island-mad exotic themes worked as aural vacations for newly transplanted suburbanites and his music also became a staple in Polynesian-themed Tiki bars. With song titles such as "Taboo," "City of Veils," and "Harem Silks from Bombay," it's easy to see how Baxter's music (like the Tiki lounges the music was played in) was built around hopeful eroticism as much as dreamy exoticism. In 1958, Baxter shot his steamy sounds up to the heavens with Space Escapade, which imaged islands in the sky full of booze and willing women who came in every color of the rainbow. After this, Baxter kept updating his signature sound for the changing times but by the late 1960s his music started to sound old fashioned. Ironically, this was an era when America's youth started acting like the very same wild, lascivious natives who were portrayed as fantasy objects in Baxter's songs. Thankfully, there's been a revived interest in Baxter's "movies for the ears" music. Long considered "cheesy," much of Baxter's work is highly imaginative and often exploratory in nature (for instance, an exotic theme in an unusual tempo will suddenly kick into a hot jazz number in 4/4 time before spinning off into an entirely new direction). But Les Baxter was never pretentious about being musically inventive and the sheer entertainment value found in his work is the main reason his old records are once again in print.
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