Artist picture of Les Baxter

Les Baxter

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Pyramid Of The Sun Les Baxter 02:34
Shooting Star Les Baxter 01:56
Auf Wiederseh'n, Sweetheart Les Baxter 02:50
Amazon Falls Les Baxter 02:48
Quiet Village Les Baxter 03:15

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A pianist, composer and arranger who cut his teeth with jazz swing bands, Les Baxter went on to have a long and varied career during which he became closely associated with Nat King Cole, pioneered the use of the electrical theremin instrument and is credited as the founder of 'exotica', an easy listening style fused with African and South American influences which became hugely popular through the 1950s.

Born in Mexia, Texas he learned his music studying at the Detroit Conservatory and Pepperdine College in Los Angeles and started out playing baritone and tenor sax with the Freddie Slack big band. He subsequently tried his hand as a concert pianist and then as a lead singer, joining Mel Torme's band the Mel-Tones; he went on to have hits singing on Artie Shaw records, notably 'What Is This Thing Called Love?'. He then moved into arranging and conducting for Capitol Records, having notable hits with Nat King Cole, including 'Mona Lisa' and 'Too Young', and wrote the soundtrack music for the movie 'Tanga Tika' before forming his own innovative orchestra. They had a series of notable hits with 'Ruby' (1953), 'Unchained Melody' (1955) and the million-selling 'The Poor People of Paris' (1956), while their experimental version of 'Sinner Man' broke the big band mould with its daring switches of tempo, bold orchestral flourishes and references to other genres. Baxter also explored different concepts with orchestral suites like 'Festival of the Gnomes', 'Ports of Pleasure' and 'Brazil Now'.

With its lush orchestral arrangements and tribal rhythms, his 1952 album 'Ritual of the Savage' became the cornerstone of the 'exotica' sub-genre, particularly the track 'Quiet Village' which greatly influenced many other popular records that followed in a similar vein. In the 1960s he even formed a folk group, The Balladeers (which also included a young David Crosby, later of Crosby, Stills & Nash) and his expansive studio techniques involving layered sound were said to be an influence on producer Phil Spector's famous 'Wall of Sound', which became the striking characteristic of many hits of the day. He also worked in radio and TV with Bob Hope and Abbott & Costello and through the '60s and '70s he also worked on movie soundtracks, notably in the horror genre, and diversified in later years writing music for the theme park SeaWorld. He died in California in 1996 at the age of 73.