Search For Paradise : Les Baxter©2006JCMarion


Les Baxter was born in March of 1922 in the town of Mexia, Texas near the city of Waco. He developed his musical talents during his high school years studying at the Detroit Conservatory in Michigan. He furthered his musical education at Pepperdine University on full scholarship, but left school before completion to become a full time concert pianist. He also worked to further his craft as a singer and in the early nineteen forties joined the vocal group The Mel-Tones who performed with singer and percussionist Mel Torme. He recorded with the band of Artie Shaw and backed Torme on their killer rendition of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”.
Besides the piano and vocal efforts, Baxter began to compose and arrange experimental ideas and signatures in music beginning with 1947’s “Music Out Of The Moon” by Harry Revel. He used a new instrument called the theremin, by its foemost practitioner Sam Hoffman on the six songs. The next year the same partners recorded a suite called “Perfume Set To Music”. In 1950 Capitol Records began to use Baxter as an arranger and conductor for the label’s top recording artists like Frank Sinatra and especially Nat “King” Cole, and this team produced a string of top selling hit records. Baxter further advanced his own ideas with a musical work called “Ritual For The Savage” (Le Sacre du Sauvage) including its theme “Quiet Village”. Baxter also was musical director for a number of radio programs such as Bob Hope and “Halls Of Ivy”, and began to write scores for motion pictures. He was also responsible for a number of dance instruction Lps for Arthur Murray. With all of this going on within his musical realm, Les Baxter started to record highly popular straight forward pop music at Capitol.

In the summer of 1951, the Baxter version of Tony Bennett’s huge hit “Because Of You” on Capitol # 1760 (with “Unless” on the flip side) , was a huge seller lasting more than five months on the best seller charts and getting as high as the number four record in the country. The flip side “Somewhere, Somehow, Someday” was also favored by a great many listeners. In early 1952 he recorded another cover record – his version of Leroy Anderson’s “Blue Tango” on # 1966. Despite the massive popularity of the original, music listeners thought enough of the Baxter version to keep it on the charts for more than four months and sales made it a top ten seller. “Kiss Of Fire” and “I’m Yours”, two pop covers on # 2102 did not fare well but later that year “Lonely Wine” on # 2106 was a top twenty five record, while his cover version of “Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart” (originally recorded by Vera Lynn) did even better, During the early fifties Baxter also produced, wrote, and arranged a ground breaking LP album by Peruvian singer Yma Sumac called “Voice Of The Xtabay” which featured the amazing four octave range of the vocalist. “Yours” and the smartly named “Flute Salad” was released on # 2274 by Capitol.

In the spring of 1953 Les Baxter had his biggest selling record ever. It was a song originally called “Coimbra” and being from Portugal it was renamed “April In Portugal”. The record issued by Capitol on # 2374 (with “Suddenly” on the other side) was kept out of the number one spot by Percy Faith’s “Song From Moulin Rouge”. Following that huge seller was another cover record of a movie tune – “Ruby” from the film “Ruby Gentry” that gave Les Baxter a huge national best seller. The song featured Dan Welton on solo harmonica on Capitol # 2457 (with “A Little Love”) . Two songs from the Broadway musical “Can-Can” provided Baxter with two more record hits. “I Love Paris” and “Gigi” released on # 2479 both charted with “Paris” getting as high as number thirteen in the country and remaining for three months on the best sellers. “Atlantis” was paired with “Flirtation Waltz” on # 2705 but was not successful. In the summer of 1954 another movie theme called “The High And The Mighty” (# 2845) was another three month seller on the charts and topped out at number four with Baxter battling the version by Leroy Holmes for top honors on the tune.
Not content with all of his varied musical pursuits, Les Baxter also tried his hand in front and behind the television and motion picture cameras. He did bit acting parts in some (mostly forgettable) movies in the fifties such as “College Capers” and “Untamed Youth”. He composed and performed the theme song for the TV program “Lassie” among others. And still – even in the teeth of the rock ‘n roll musical revolt of the mid fifties, he continued to construct pop music classics.

 

In the spring of 1955 even with competing versions by Roy Hamilton and Al Hibbler, Baxter’s version of “Unchained Melody” hit number one in sales across the country. The record issued by Capitol on # 3055 remained on the charts for more than five months. Later that year his version of “Wake The Town And Tell The People” on # 3120 was a solid seller reaching number five and had a three month stay on the charts. In early 1956 Les Baxter charted one last time, but – it was one to remember. The song was written by Marguerite Monnot and called “The Poor People Of Paris”. Capitol # 3336 (with “Helen Of Troy” on the reverse) took the country by storm – rock ‘n roll be damned ! – and went to number one in the nation and stayed there for almost two months. It became one of the top selling records of the entire decade and lasted for more than five months on the charts. Later efforts for Capitol that did not do well were “The Left Arm Of Buddha” and “Buenos Aires” on # 3573 and “The Search For Paradise” on # 3798.

By the early nineteen sixties Baxter left Capitol to concentrate on film scores and also further developed the genre of music now known as “Exotica”. He is now known and acknowledged as its foremost practitioner and influenced the most famous of this music’s performers Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. By the nineteen eighties he was ready for a life of retirement which he practiced in Newport Beach, California. He passed away in January of 1996 haqving witnessed the rediscovery of the music called exotica of which he was so much a part. Les Baxter was a true musical genius of his times.

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