I can remember hearing music by Enoch Light’s orchestra many times through the years, but I now realize that I always had a few misconceptions about him. By the time I started noticing him in the 1950s and 1960s he was known as someone who specialized in cutting-edge music, and as a pioneer in producing some of the earliest high-quality stereo recordings. But as it turns out, he had a very different musical career a couple of decades before that.
Enoch Henry Light was born and raised in middle America — Canton, Ohio — and was a classically trained violinist. By the time he reached adulthood in the 1920’s, he had embarked on a professional career and spent some time in Paris. He eventually transitioned from light classics to pops and then settled into steady work directing a hotel orchestra, while still occasionally hitting the recording studio. He even sang from time to time.
Light seemed to be happy doing that for a number of years. After all, leading a hotel orchestra was a pretty good gig during the Great Depression, and his band — which at one point was christened the Light Brigade — was a fixture for many years at the Taft Hotel in New York. In addition to that, the band made a few records and also appeared on radio. It was a typical ‘sweet’ band of the era, but it’s a good bet that he was already thinking about something newer, because he was already paying attention to ongoing developments for recording music. That took a lot of time and foresight, but by the late 1950s it began to pay off for him in a burst of new-found fame. All of a sudden — it seemed — he was the leading light in a new wave of cutting-edge music that took advantage of the latest stereo equipment and methodology.
Employing his expertise in recording techniques, he began what would be a flood of albums of highly modern music on his own record label, Command. His arrangements were sometimes brassy, often filled with aggressive percussion, and touched on just about every kind of music, from Bossa Nova to disco to show tunes. And they always featured his innovative stereo sound.
In the mid-1960s things began to change. He sold Command Records to ABC Records, which was later acquired by MCA Records, and the quality suffered. It eventually became a secondary label, but well before that Light had moved on. He started another record label that he named Project 3, and began to reinvent himself yet again. Although he was still interested in cutting-edge sound, he began to make records that were a little more traditional in the sense that there were fewer percussive sounds and stereo effects. Instead he undertook a series of albums devoted to his impressions of the big bands from the Swing era. To help validate the project he hired many of the same musicians who had been present on the original recordings.
There weren’t many kinds of music that he didn’t attempt to give the Enoch Light treatment to. He even spun out albums featuring the Enoch Light Singers, which gave another whole angle to his music. (And no doubt added to record sales.)
Light sold a lot of albums during the 1960s and into the following decade before finally retiring from the business in 1974. When he died in 1978, just before what would have been his 73rd birthday, he left behind a distinct and notable legacy.