Incidental proto-jazz classics & assorted municipal-ambient background fare
Featuring: mood-enhancer melodies for committed cafe crawlers and 'menthylated bistro jazz wafting down the fjords of your mind'...
The best caff background music of all would be a dream compilation of incidental music* from lost British movies like The Beauty Jungle and The Running Man, featuring early Laurie Johnson themes (composer of The Avengers series).
Also highly commended are the themes for The Prisoner out on a series of three cassettes and CDs. The music for this legendary show has the ability to perfectly conjure up high street Britain circa 1963 with its proto-jazz noodlings and parallax background melodies. Truly, the sound of 'contemporary' aural styling. Omit the fearful brass-band tunes and you're left with a motherlode of municipal-ambient cutd that will heighten any cafe visit.
Some of the more obscure John Barry output in this vein is also most worthwhile. Notably 'Fancy Dance' and the main theme to 'Seance on a Wet Afternoon.'
Difficult to find now, but hugely rewarding, are the early Dudley Moore Trio LPs. Moore, a musical prodigy, attended the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Magdalen College, Oxford University. He left school to perform as part of the Johnny Dankworth Seven and tour the United States with the Vic Lewis Band. By the late 1950s he had established himself as a first-rate jazz pianist and entered into a long collaborative partnership with Peter Cook. In the Sixties he formed the acclaimed Dudley Moore Trio who performed regularly on British TV, made numerous recordings, and had a long-running residency at Cook's Establishment Club. The Trio's Bedazzled soundtrack is not only one of the greatest ever film theme albums but also a genuine masterpiece of 60s elevator lite-jazz orchestration in the Oscar Petersen/Bill Evans Trio mould. Beware, an original vinyl LP now changes hands at over £300. All the other early Moore albums are equally neglected (and hard to find) but contain beautiful interludes. Try out Genuine Dud, Thirty Is A Dangerous Age Cynthia and The Music Of Dudley Moore. (Several years ago Harkit Records brought out a CD of Moore's Bedazzled soundtrack, mastered from vinyl, as well as ...Cynthia and other Trio LPs. After wrangles with Moore's estate all were recalled.) Extensive interview with Dudley Moore circa 1966
In a similar vein, Chris Gunning's rare Goodbye Gemini soundtrack has many misty moments. Chris n' Dud were apparently friends and this collection reveals just how close they were. The fragment of the song 'Forget About The Day' is almost as great a caff-anthem as Les Baxter's toweringly evocative 'Tomorrow For Sure'. The LP is being reissued by the excellent Harkit Records sometime early in 2005. (Some tracks on Goodbye Gemini appear to be reworkings of Bedazzled numbers; especially the romantic ultraglide of 'Houseboat Party No. 2'; a number which also recalls the film work of Piero Piccioni)
Also on a Moore tip, Jerry Van Rooyen: At 250 Miles Per Hour (Crippled Dick) has some poignantly incidental Euroticized film fare amongst the r n' b dross. Check out: 'Little Mean Men', 'Lisbon Sidewalks', 'Skyscrapers Galore', 'Racedriver In Love', 'Oxtail Castle', 'Transylvanian Nights' and 'Lullaby In Red.' All of them calculated to conjure visions of freshly gleaming coffee bars and all manner of 50s high street heartache.
For further jazzerama in lite-romantic mode, Michel Legrand's Thomas Crown Affair (Ryko) soundtrack is packed with achingly exquisite pieces remastered to a phenomenal standard.
And whilst searching out the ...Crown, why not nab the top-value CDx2 set of Quincy Jones' Pawnbroker and Deadly Affair? Emotional early 60s Jones-iana orchestrated before the schmaltz set in - these dramatic, rueful vignettes really sting the heart and bring a bulge to the throat. Jones was almost operating at Miles Davies Lift To The Scaffold levels of genius on these cuts. There can be no greater plaudit.
Municipal Lite Jazz is the kind of buoyant, peppery post-Miles Davis Neo-Bop** that used to run with 50s/60s British public info documentaries (often about New Towns, social issues, pop-science or local government) and a host of other programming. Trading on Davis's pure, singing tones and 'uncluttered, ageless, epigrammatic' style (© Brian Case), UK Municipal Jazz was often used as incidental music* to indicate that some vaguely highminded, progressive point of view was about to be presented to the citizenry.
John Dankworth's much-loved Tomorrow's World theme bears the classic Municipal signature - a homage to the textured arrangements of 1957's Miles Ahead LP "which make manifest the neo-classical leanings of such previous ensembles as the Birth of Cool nonet". (© Richard Cook.) Listen to Tomorrow's World then check out these Miles Ahead tracks: John Carisi's 'Springsville', Brubeck's 'The Duke', Evans' 'Blues For Pablo' and Jamal's 'New Rhumba'.
Some background: After Davis's father sent him to Juliard, Miles dropped out to play with Charlie Parker's quintet from 1946 to 1948. Miles then hooked up with bop players J.J. Johnson, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Max Roach who were developing a relaxed style that perfectly matched Miles's temperment. This lucid, disciplined, quiet music became known as 'cool jazz'. Davis became the nonet's ad-hoc leader, and the classic 1949 Birth of the Cool album was born.
Davis's later Miles Ahead recording from 1957, the first of his collaborations with arranger Gil Evans, went on to pioneer the third stream movement (mainstream classical music and jazz melding to form a 'third stream'). The album takes the ideas of Evans and Mulligan on Birth of the Cool to the next stage with Davis attempting to reproduce the sound of an orchestra (such as Duke Ellington's or Claude Thornhill's) with only nine instruments: trumpet, alto sax, baritone sax, French horn, trombone, tuba, piano, bass, and drums. Evans' arrangements enhance Davis's sense of space and evocative tonality: sometimes constructing complex arrangements and making them fly (the opening of Carisi's Springsville); sometimes contrasting Davis's voice with tuba or bass clarinet...
Copyright-free compilation CDs containing 60s style backing themes and incidental cuts can make useful cafe music too. A plethora of easy-listening cheese compilations may also have the occasional nugget. The Ultra Lounge CD series is as good a bet as any but - as ever - steer clear of all the 'groovy' bluesy stuff.
Any amount of Light Orchestral music is appropriate in a cafe setting too. Lots of recent titles and compilations have come out on CD.
For one spectacularly site-specific cafe song then 'Capaldi's Cafe' from the Deaf School LP 'Don't Stop The World' is a must. Deaf School were pre-punk 70s art-rock avatars extrordinaire. But as Art Rock is about the only orphan musical genre still in disgrace, the band remain unacclaimed. 'Capaldi's Cafe' is a reverential retro-rocker dedicated to the great Liverpool cafe that was a cultural centre for many different strands of Mersey-sound over the decades. Their first LP 'Second Honeymoon' is also magnificent.
el Records put out a slew of superb pre-easy listening cult records through the late 80s which prompted a severe critical drubbing ('faint hearted English whimsy', 'cavalcade of camp'). But the legacy of the self-styled 'Motown of surrealism' survives, and all el label output is now hugely collectible. Marden Hill's 'Cadaquez' or 'The Incredible' Anthony Adverse are particularly well suited to cafe reveries. Mike Alway, the label boss, brought together an amazing array of prefabricated acts steeped in his vision of a Britain that was forever Terry Thomas. The original vinyl LPs are so ornately packaged that a full junk shop and dealer search is warranted. (More on Alway's imagineering here... and here)
In a somewhat similar mould, Tot Taylor also released a lot of pre-easy orchestral themes in the 80s and signed left-field artists to his Compact label (who could forget Mari Wilson and Verna Lindt?) Both el and Taylor received a vicious critical lambasting at the time from the nascent Britpop/indie press. But now both seem like visionaries, especially after the success of Ultra Lounge and hundreds of other irksome 'cheese' spin-offs. The Suburbia Suite CD with its sunray-semi cover and titles like 'After the Gymkhana' is perfect for cafe lovers. The 80s synth approximations of Lite Programme arrangements won't be to everyone's taste though. Other Taylor rarity LPs like My Blue Period and Box Office Poison are filled with sub Bennett/Damone swansongs of a surprisingly high order.
And let's not forget Dexy's Midnight Runners' stomping Northern Soul twister 'The Teams That Meet in Caffs' - Brum's greasy-spoons given the big brass Wigan casino treatment as only Kevin Rowland knew how: stevedore donkey-jacket chic flavoured with Formica courtesy of Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers.
Incidental music is music in a play, television program, radio program or some other form not primarily musical often background music that adds atmosphere to the action.
Its use dates back to Greek drama (where music intervenes at significant points) and the medieval miracle and mystery plays (where it accompanied entrances and exits and enhanced symbolism).
Closely related to Incidental music, Light Music includes broadly romantic themes suitable for main titles, cheerful pizzicato and string fantasias, clever novelty pieces, sophisticated jazz-influenced arrangements, Palm Court music, show music (Richard Rogers, Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Weber), popular songs, ballads, film music and TV themes.
Light Music evolved from the light classical tradition of ballet and operetta scores, Broadway musical comedy and show tunes. It developed in the decades immediately following the Big Band era and the popularity of the form especially between 1935-1965 made it the number-one rated music format in all radio markets.
The tuneful orchestral music of Eric Coates, Edward German, Leroy Anderson, Robert Farnon, Ron Goodwin and Trevor Duncan served a need for less highbrow music at a time "when there was real appreciation for music of beauty, quality, and craftsmanship" a time when "the years of the Vietnam War and the Kennedy Assassination formed a rift in our culture between old and young, between talent and ego, between trained musicians and their audience."
The Light Music Society was founded in 1957 when many light orchestras were broadcasting week in week out. The society helped to keep light music on the air through the influence they had with the BBC.
In 1969, The Library of Light-Orchestral Music was created (now housed at Ernest Tomlinson's home in Lancashire) with upwards of 30,000 orchestral sets. Around 1976, principally due to lack of support for light music in the broadcasting world, the Society reduced its activities. But since 1996 it has grown considerably and the work of the Library increases accordingly.