In the tradition of swing and big band, lounge is characterized by jazz-inspired
songs with rich yet accessible writing and arrangements. With roots in the easy
listening songs that were popular in the 1950s – typically based on light,
sophisticated and tuneful instrumental melodies – lounge also benefited from
the advent of stereo and the ensuing popularity of new sound technologies.
Among the era’s leading artists were Henry Mancini, composer
of the legendary Pink Panther theme, and Burt Bacharach,
a songwriter who had a profound influence on popular American music from the 1960s.
Bacharach has since written music for film, including the soundtrack
for James Bond - Casino Royale. Also well worth mentioning are American
trumpet player Herb Alpert and Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes,
each of whom has borrowed freely from worldbeat and Latin rhythms, thus drawing
closer to exotica.
Exotica and Space Age Pop
Exotica is a sub-genre of sorts, an audacious blend of easy-listening and lounge:
Hawaiian, Cuban or Brazilian rhythms meet African percussion, xylophones and vibraphones.
The musical hardware of exotica evokes carefree tropical exoticism, and the easygoing
popular form held widespread appeal among the American public in the 1950s and 1960s.
Emerging as one of its groundbreaking artists was American composer and musician
Les Baxter, whose numerous recordings included the 1951 album Ritual
of the Savage. Other iconic figures of exotica include pianist Martin Denny
and vibraphonist and marimba player Arthur Lyman – both Americans
– as well as the incredible Peruvian singer Yma Sumac, whose vocal
range spans more than four octaves.
Lounge also drew inspiration from space age pop – a second offspring of easy
listening that integrated Latin rhythms and used the sound and vocals effects offered
by stereo to the fullest, thus lending the music a futurist dimension. The albums
Exploring New Sounds in Stereo (1958) and Infinity in Sound, Vol.1
(1960) by Mexican composer and pianist Juan Garcia Esquivel –
a pioneer of space age pop – are prime examples of the genre. The duo
Perrey-Kingsley also explored new electronic sonorities, distinguished
themselves with The In Sound from Way Out!, a 1966 release.
The 1990s Revival
After languishing in obscurity for a few decades, exotica and space age pop came
back into vogue in the 1990s. Esquivel enjoyed renewed success
with See It in Sound, an album first recorded in 1960, and a handful
of Martin Denny songs were remastered. Inspired by Esquivel,
the American group Combustible Edison followed suit with several
albums between 1993 and 1996. Also drawing attention with a soaring brand
of ambient electronic music was the American group, The Gentle People.
Since the success of its 1997 album Sympathique, the ten-piece American
Pink Martini has played a key part in the lounge revival,
skilfully blending vocals with an instrumental variety that might include piano,
trumpet, violin, vibraphone and congas.
The trend toward cosy elegance in music has also given rise to some popular compilations.
Among the best known are the Buddha-Bar and Café
Del Mar collections – the first for its world and oriental
sounds, the second for its considerable variety: Paco de Lucía,
Moby, Dido, and the list goes on.
The Hotel Costes album series by French DJ Stéphane Pompougnac
offers a refined and sensual electro-lounge courtesy of such artists as Seven
Dub, Tosca and Gotan Project. Lounge remixes of
jazz standards and well-known pop and rock songs have also earned public favour,
as has the Supreme Lounge compilation featuring film music and songs by
the likes of Vladimir Cosma and Ennio Morricone.
In Quebec, the Café Méliès series highlights Canadian
artists such as Adam Chakra, Ramasutra and Bet.e & Stef.
Lounge clearly embodies a broad spectrum of styles. Be it electro, jazz or Latin
in colour, or inspired by the down-tempo beats of chill-out, the genre’s continued
appeal lies in the relaxing, finely-wrought musical ambiences that are its calling
Lounge at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
In 1997, two legends of lounge – Yma Sumac and Herb
Alpert – paid a visit to the Festival, with the Inca goddess
bringing the crowd to their feet with her astounding vocal range and Alpert and
The Tijuana Brass performing alongside Irakere
Los Van Van. Two years later, the American duo Thievery Corporation
appeared at the Festival, performing electro-lounge tracks from their first album,
Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi.
Best known for her work as part of a duo with Steph, Bet.e is now flying solo.
For the Festival’s 30th, Quebec’s bossa nova diva presented the album
Becoming – a suave blend of soul-infused lounge. Festival fans also
had another chance to hear Argentinean Federico Aubele and his sultry blend
of Latin rhythms with Spanish vocals, electro and guitar. Still in 2009, the
Pacifika, founded by Peruvian-born singer Silvana Kane,
performed pieces from their debut album, Asunción, an amalgam of
flamenco, electro and new wave. And let’s not forget Pink Martini. After
two hugely successful appearances in 2005 and 2007, the group was back
in 2009, flanked by a 51-piece orchestra.