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Retro Redux: Musical Familiarity Breeds Contentment, Not Contempt

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It has always seemed a little odd to me how some musicians can sort of slip in the back door of your musical psyche. You might be pretty sure that you've never gone out of your way to listen to anything by them or read anything about them, and yet they've somehow become familiar. You might even find yourself enjoying the music, so the old adage about familiarity breeding contempt could be changed to say that it results in contentment.

For me, a good example is Frank Chacksfield, the British-born master of the easy listening genre. I'm not sure what route he and his music followed to get into my head, but it was probably a combination of several things. It's possible that my parents had one or two of his records while I was growing up, and through the years I've probably encountered his music on the radio and – let's be honest – on the elevator. Whatever the case, he's firmly entrenched.

chack1Chacksfield grew up with music in his native England, learning to play the piano and organ while still very young. However, his musical education was intended to be in the service of the church, and as he approached adulthood his parents did not encourage his choice of music as a career. That didn't stop the young man, and by the time he was in his twenties he was leading his own small band.

At the outbreak of World War II, Chacksfield joined the British army and was assigned to the Signal Corps, but eventually ended up spending most of his time in the entertainment section, working in shows and radio broadcasts. In the years after the war, the experience he'd gained helped him continue building a career in professional music.

By the early '50s he'd managed to latch on to a recording contract with Decca, and after a couple of early misfires, found success with "Theme from Limelight," which hit the charts in both the UK and the US.  The record featured the kind of performance that would become his trademark — a soft and melodic piano backed by a full, lush orchestral sound.

He followed with an even bigger hit, "Ebb Tide," and embarked on a period of many years during which he was one of the most consistent successes in album sales. He gave the Chacksfield treatment to everything from light classics and pop tunes to movie and show tunes, and he continued performing and recording almost up until his death in 1995.

A career that spanned more than sixty years — plenty of time for his music to become familiar to several generations of music lovers.

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