Les Baxter

Les Baxter was a pianist who composed and orchestrated for top swing bands in the ’40s. But he is best known as the creator of exotica. This is an easy listening style that focuses on the sounds and styles from Polynesia and South America while still retaining the string-and-horn arrangements and instrumental pop. Exotica was a hugely popular style in the 1950s. Thousands of record buyers listened to Martin Denny and other imitators. Baxter was also the first to use the electronic instrument, the theremin. It has a haunting and howling sound. Baxter studied piano in Los Angeles at the Detroit Conservatory as well as Pepperdine College. He became a singer after completing school. He joined Mel Torme and the Mel-Tones when he was 23. They sang on Artie Shaw records, including “What Is This Thing Called Love” He was hired by Capitol Records in 1950 to be an arranger and conductor. His hits included “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole. Baxter also began recording his own albums around the same time. He released Music out of The Moon in 1948 as a triple-78 album. This was the beginning of space-age pop thanks to the use of the theremin. He recorded exotica albums with Le Sacre du Sauvage four years later. Baxter’s early-’50s singles featured standard hits like “Unchained Melody”, and “The Poor People of Paris,” however, he used many different world musics on his albums, adapting them to his orchestra. Baxter was also the music director of the radio program Halls of Ivy.

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