My Grandfather, Enoch Light: An Appreciation
By Jon Klages
For many music aficionados, the name Enoch Light is synonymous with Bachelor Pad Music, innovative stereophonic recordings that featured bongos ping-ponging from speaker to speaker as a combo laid down exotic jazz-lounge sounds. Others know him as the producer of the early Free Design records which, decades after being lost in the mists of ’60s pop, are now recognized as some of the most influential vocal-group albums of the era. And some, while not familiar with Enoch Light’s music, see in their mind’s eye the bold graphics on the gatefold covers that contained LPs released by his Command Records and Project 3 labels, remembering them from their parents’ record collections, or from scavenging moldering bins at garage sales.
I remember Enoch Light as my grandfather, and as one of my first and foremost musical influences. My mother, Julie Light Klages, was the associate producer on many of his recordings, and I loved those childhood days when she took me along to NYC’s fabled A&R Studios for a session. I would watch through the glass of the control room as Enoch, dressed for success in shirt, tie, and sweater vest, conducted the band. Though neither tall of stature nor long on words, Enoch had a quiet power; he could hold a roomful of musicians at rapt attention. Listening to the playback, he would light his ever-present pipe and, through the smoke curling about his silver hair, catch my eye with a winsome smile. Years later, I worked for a summer at Project 3’s Manhattan offices, an experience that inspired “1133 Ave. of the Americas (For Enoch Light),” an instrumental track on my new album, Fabulous Twilight.
Recently, I revisited Enoch’s legacy of recorded music on Command Records and Project 3, amazed again by the range of musical genres released on those labels — from big band to jazz to classical to spaced-out pop. (The albums on his first label, Grand Award, largely novelty and themed recordings — e.g., I Want to Be Happy Cha Cha’s — are worth seeking out, though somewhat hard to find.) The headline on the back cover of early LPs released on Command Records reads, for discriminating people who desire the finest in sound…. For these discriminating listeners, and for those who would just like some entry places into his music catalog, here are 10 of my favorite Enoch Light albums:
1) Persuasive Percussion (1959, Command Records): Enoch’s landmark album in early high-fidelity recording. As the liner notes state, the music is “both intrinsically exciting and sonically adventurous,” with buoyant, percussion-driven arrangements of standards like “I’m in the Mood for Love” and “I Love Paris” and a clarity and definition of sound that set a new standard for stereo recording. It’s great fun to listen to. The album’s look was also innovative, with its gatefold cover and eye-catching minimalist graphic design by renowned artist Josef Albers.
2) The Private Life of a Private Eye (1959, Command Records): Building on the enormous success of Persuasive Percussion, Enoch moved into Peter Gunn territory, creating what he called a musical “ballet for moderns” — a wonderfully evocative collection of private eye- and spy-themed tunes with noir-ish titles like “The Gang at the Green Grotto” and “Serenade for a Sweet Babe.”
3) Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73 — William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1961, Command Classics). Enoch recorded William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra many times for Command, and this bravura Brahms performance recorded on 35mm magnetic film (another one of my grandfather’s innovations) is one I listened to a lot.
4) Big Band Bossa Nova (1962, Command Records). Jumping on the Bossa Nova craze, Enoch combined his expertise as a big band leader (Enoch Light and the Light Brigade) with infectious Brazilian rhythms to create this best seller that made the Top Ten charts. Get your Samba on!
5) Kites Are Fun —The Free Design (1967, Project 3). When Enoch first heard the Dedrick siblings (Chris, Bruce, and Sandy, and later, younger sister Ellen), he knew their sound was fresh and special, and that he would give Chris, the group’s musical director and main composer, free creative reign in the studio. What resulted was an album of sparkling, timeless pop and a beloved single, “Kites Are Fun.” Chris Dedrick’s masterful writing and arranging are on a par with the works of Brian Wilson and John Phillips. A pop classic.
6) The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman (1969, Command Records): Dick Hyman, jack of all piano trades and one of Woody Allen’s most-favored composers, takes on the keyboard beast known as the Moog in this set of surprisingly melodic original compositions and improvisations. One of them, “The Minotaur,” which actually charted in the Top 40, used to scare the bejeezus out of me.
7) Spaced Out (1969, Project 3). With a photo of a space vixen straight out of Barbarella, the album cover’s headline announces “Exploratory Trips Through the Music of Bach, Bacharach, the Beatles, Integrating the Moog, the Guitar Scene, Electric Harpsichords, Flugelhorns, etc.” ’Nuff said.
8) Green Power (1971, Project 3) — Urbie Green. An extraordinary musician whose peerless tone and technique made him the trombonist of choice for band leaders including Woody Herman and Quincy Jones, Urbie adds a reverb-soaked trombone to tunes ranging from Aretha’s “Spirit in the Dark” to Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder” to a breezy take on the Bobby Sherman hit “Easy Come, Easy Go.” You read that right…and it’s swingin.’
9) Two Guitars for Two in Love (1972, Project 3) —Tony Mottola. Tony Mottola was one of the most popular artists on Enoch’s labels, and his smooth guitar stylings sometimes belied his background as an extraordinary jazz musician. (Check out the guitar duets he performed with Carl Kress.) This outing, which features Bucky Pizzarelli on the other guitar, boasts a standout version of “Satin Doll” and a delightful Neal Hefti medley. Tony gave me my first guitar lesson.
10) Romance Is on the Rise — Genevieve Waite (1974, Paramour Records, distributed by Total Sound, Inc.) Produced by John Phillips as a showcase for his third wife, model and actress Genevieve Waite, this album of Phillips originals (and one Irving Berlin gem) has a winning pop-cabaret charm. It was a hard sell at the time — Genevieve’s Betty Boop-ish voice is an acquired taste — but the album has become a cult favorite. Distributed through Enoch’s parent company, Total Sound, Inc., Romance Is on the Rise was one of his last record projects. He retired soon after, splitting his time between his homes in New York and Connecticut, before passing away in 1978.
Jon Klages’s new album, Fabulous Twilight, is available April 2 on Danbury Fair Recordings.
Below is the premiere of the song "The Fabulous Twilights" from the album. The song was inspired by a doo-wop group, Nathaniel Mayer and the Fabulous Twilights, who had a Top 40 hit in 1962 with a song called "Village of Love." Richard Barone has this to say about the song and the Twilights in the album's liner notes:
"'The Fabulous Twilights' takes its name from the early 1960s doo-wop group led by 18-year-old Nathaniel Mayer, whose spirit inhabits Jon's soulful lead vocal and the lush backing harmonies. It is this song that gives the album its title, and introduces one of its overarching themes as the lead character 'Looks in the mirror / smiles and turns away / how did he ever get to be so grey?' Melancholic? Hardly. Instead, the story turns out to be defiantly romantic and overtly sensual."