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Kenyon Hopkins: Verve/Esquire Sound Tour

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Never before had there been such a rush of musical product as that which appeared during the '50s and '60s. In all areas of music, but especially for popular and jazz genres, the time was ripe for a myriad of experiments. As stereo took its place among the technical landscape, companies large and small rushed to take advantage of its possibilities, sometimes with disastrous results, but often with a sense of inspired ingenuity. While producer Creed Taylor had already skipped to the head of the class while serving as A&R man for ABC Paramount and then ushering in its Impulse subsidiary, it was his period with MGM's Verve label that brought with it his greatest commercial successes.

All the foregoing hopefully assists in establishing the circumstances that helped produce a very creative series of recordings produced by Taylor for Verve back in the mid '60s. In a partnership with Esquire Magazine, four albums were produced which attempted to create "impressions in sound of an American on tour." The music for these sets ( Sound Tour: Spain , Sound Tour: Italy , Sound Tour: France , and Sound Tour: Hawaii ) was created by Kenyon Hopkins, a sadly underrated composer who was active in the studios during the '50s and '60s writing music for such movie scores as "Baby Doll," "The Yellow Canary," "The Hustler," and "The Fugitive Kind."

Much like his soundtrack work, Hopkins imbues his charts with jazz sensibilities and such names as Phil Woods, Hank Jones, Joe Wilder, and Doc Severinsen were on hand for all of the sessions. Along with Hopkins' originals, there are pieces which are linked to each particular land, such as "Arrivaderci Roma," "La Paloma," and "Hawaiian War Chant." Engineers Ray Hall and Bob Simpson further augmented the stereo terrain by adding Keene Crockett's "sound pictures" here and there, such as boat whistles and a revved up Alfa Romero speeding away from some Spanish villa.

As enticing as the whole idea and the accompanying music turn out to be, the packaging really puts things over the top. The gatefold design has the front cover opening on either side. Underneath you'll find details about the recording set-up, an illustration showing the placement of instruments within the stereo spectrum, and a small booklet that contains travel tips for each country by Esquire's then travel editor Richard Joseph. It's a near perfect package that really needs to be seen.

Unfortunately, none of Hopkins' work is currently in print, and that includes the four volumes of Sound Tour . The whole scenario is particularly surprising considering the current popularity of "space age pop" or "bachelor pad" music. Of course, even if Verve decided to reissue the Sound Tour volumes, it's doubtful that the deluxe packaging would transfer well to the CD format. So if you still have a turntable you might want to keep an eye out at garage sales or flea markets for these neglected gems. It might take some time (it took me several years to acquire all four), but it's well worth the search.


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