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Mel Torme
Mel Torme 
June 5, 1999
Age 73
Stroke 
OBITUARY 
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OBITUARY 
        
       
 NY TIMES
Mel Torme, Velvet Voice of Pop and Jazz, Dies at 73

          By STEPHEN HOLDEN 

          Mel Torme, the fluent pop-jazz singer who earned the nickname the 
          Velvet Fog for his smooth, soft vocal timbre, died yesterday of 
          complications from a stroke he suffered in 1996. He was 73 and lived in 
          Beverly Hills, Calif.  

          Mr. Torme was rushed early yesterday from his home to the University 
          of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, said his publicist, Rob 
          Wilcox.  

                                A supreme vocal technician whose style 
                                encompassed everything from intimate pop 
                                crooning to jet-propelled scat 
                                improvisations, Mr. Torme was rivaled in 
                                virtuosity only by Ella Fitzgerald, who 
                                moved between the worlds of pop and jazz 
                                with a similar ease. An innate classicist who 
                                approached popular songs with an analytic 
                                sense of balance and proportion, Mr. 
                                Torme infused everything he sang with a 
          geniality that seemed ingrained in a voice that was incapable of making an 
          unpleasant sound.  

          Mr. Torme was also a prolific songwriter, drummer, pianist, musical 
          arranger, actor and author. His most famous composition "The Christmas 
          Song" (also known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"), written 
          with the lyricist Robert Wells, became one of the most beloved of 
          seasonal standards after it was recorded by Nat (King) Cole in 1946.  

          Mr. Torme liked to recall that the song was written in just 40 minutes on 
          a sweltering July afternoon in Los Angeles and that it had subsequently 
          been recorded in 1,734 versions.  

          The singer's several books included "The Other Side of the Rainbow" 
          (1970), an account of his experiences working as the musical adviser to 
          Judy Garland on her television shows in the 1960's, a novel, "Wynner" 
          (1978), and an autobiography, "It Wasn't All Velvet," published in 1988. 
          The Garland book, with its portrait of the troubled singer, won critical 
          praise but earned the wrath of her family, who unsuccessfully sued Mr. 
          Torme.  

          But it was as a singer that Mr. Torme made his deepest mark. The critic 
          Will Friedwald, in his book "Jazz Singing," cited Mr. Torme as a pioneer 
          of the "cool jazz" approach, spun off from the pop crooning of the day.  

          "Torme works with the most beautiful voice a man is allowed to have, 
          and he combines it with a flawless sense of pitch," Mr. Friedwald wrote. 
          "As an improviser he shames all but two or three other scat singers and 
          quite a few horn players as well."  

          His standards included "Blue Moon," "It Might as Well Be Spring," "Oh, 
          You Beautiful Doll" and "Mountain Greenery."  

          Melvin Howard Torme was born on the South Side of Chicago on Sept. 
          13, 1925, to a working-class Jewish family. His parents were immigrants 
          whose name had been changed from Torma to Torme by an immigration 
          agent. He was a musical prodigy who sang professionally at age 4 with 
          the Coon-Sanders Orchestra, singing "You're Driving Me Crazy," at the 
          Blackhawk restaurant in Chicago for $15 a session, and he was also a 
          busy child actor on radio serials, appearing from 1933 to 1941 on such 
          network programs as "The Romance of Helen Trent" and "Jack 
          Armstrong, the All-American Boy."  

          He started writing songs at 13 and was only 16 when Harry James 
          scored a hit with his song "Lament to Love." While still a teen-ager, he 
          toured as a singer, arranger and drummer in a band led by Chico Marx 
          of the Marx Brothers.  

          In 1943, he made his movie debut in the musical "Higher and Higher," 
          playing a supporting role to Frank Sinatra, who was also making his film 
          debut.  

          The same year he formed the 
          vocal group Mel Torme and His 
          Mel-Tones, a quintet that sang in 
          a style modeled after Frank 
          Sinatra and the Pied Pipers. 
          After his appearance in the 1947 
          musical "Good News" made Mr. 
          Torme a bobby-soxer idol, the 
          Mel-Tones slipped increasingly 
          into the background.  

          He was only 21 when he 
          appeared as a soloist at the 
          Copacabana in New York, and 
          Fred Robbins, a local disk 
          jockey, gave him the nickname 
          Velvet Fog, a sobriquet he 
          detested. Mr. Torme recorded 
          for Decca in 1945, for Musicraft (1946-48), singing with the Artie Shaw 
          Orchestra, and in 1949 moved to Capitol, where his first recording for 
          the label, "Careless Hands," became his only No. 1 hit. It was followed 
          by a two-sided hit, "Again" and "Blue Moon," which became one of his 
          best-loved signature songs. The same year, his composition "California 
          Suite," a jazzier answer to Gordon Jenkins's pop oratorio "Manhattan 
          Tower," became the first 12-inch LP put out by the label.  

          Mr. Torme was 30 when he met Red Clyde, the jazz producer who 
          founded Bethlehem Records, and decided to switch gears and move 
          toward jazz. From 1955 to 1957, he recorded seven albums for the 
          label, including "Mel Torme With the Marty Paich Dektette," a pop jazz 
          classic featuring a 10-member ensemble (arranged by Mr. Paich) that 
          combined the power of a big band with the freedom of a small ensemble. 

          "I wanted to embed in the minds of the public at large, particularly jazz 
          fans, that this syrupy, creamy bobby-sox sensation was taking the 
          musical bull by the horns and singing the kind of music he wanted to 
          sing," Mr. Torme later recalled.  

          But artistic integrity did not breed commercial success.  

          "I can't deny that I would have been pleased to have a best-seller," Mr. 
          Torme said, "but if you're constantly working to good rooms and to good 
          crowds, records are only frosting on the cake. Yet my managers kept 
          bugging me for the big hit, and to satisfy them, when rock erupted in the 
          mid-1960's, I recorded some of the worst dreck you can imagine -- to 
          no avail."  

          Soon Mr. Torme found himself eking out a living playing out-of-the-way 
          clubs. As rock-and-roll solidified its domination of the airwaves, he 
          briefly considered retiring from music and becoming an airline pilot.  

          The next two decades were a frustrating period of dues-paying in which 
          Mr. Torme moved from record company to record company and often 
          found himself forced to record the pop hits of the day with tinny 
          arrangements. He managed to score a minor hit, with a blues song, 
          "Comin' Home, Baby," in 1962.  

          His reputation as a jazz singer continued to grow, based on his live 
          performances. In 1976 he won an Edison Award (the Dutch equivalent 
          of the Grammy) for best male singer, and a Downbeat award for best 
          male jazz singer.  

          The ground swell of recognition accelerated after a triumphant 1977 
          Carnegie Hall concert with George Shearing and Gerry Mulligan, which 
          Mr. Torme viewed as a turning point in his career. He later recorded five 
          albums with Mr. Shearing, whose cool, romantic pianism perfectly 
          complimented Mr. Torme's serene vocal style.  

          "It is impossible to imagine a more compatible musical partner," Mr. 
          Shearing said after hearing of Mr. Torme's death. "I humbly put forth that 
          Mel and I had the best musical marriage in many a year. We literally 
          breathed together during our countless performances. As Mel put it, we 
          were two bodies of one musical mind."  

          In 1982, Mr. Torme finally found a stable recording base in Concord 
          Jazz Records, for whom he made a succession of albums that established 
          him as an articulate custodian of a broad pop-jazz-swing tradition that 
          encompassed Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Duke Ellington, Benny 
          Goodman and the Gershwins.  

          Mr. Torme's career also got a lift in the 1980's through the television 
          series "Night Court," in which Harry Anderson's character, Judge Harry 
          Stone, was an unabashed fan.  

          Mr. Torme was married four times. His first three marriages ended in 
          divorce. He is survived by his wife, Ali, and five children, Steve, Melissa, 
          Tracy, Daisy and James Torme, all of Los Angeles, and two 
          stepchildren, Carrie Torme and Kurt Goldsmith.  

          Regular appearances at the JVC Jazz Festival and annual nightclub 
          engagements at Michael's Pub in Manhattan solidified Mr. Torme's 
          position as a musician who melded the achievements of the past into a 
          sweeping but personalized vision of American popular music in its golden 
          age as a vernacular kind of classical music.  

          For well over a decade, Mr. Torme's September appearances at 
          Michael's Pub, on the Upper East Side, unofficially opened New York's 
          fall cabaret season.  

          A typical Torme performance there might have been a salute to a pop 
          music giant like Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire or Benny Goodman, in which 
          the singer distilled his rich personal vision of a career in less than an hour.  

          These shows featured intricate medleys that showcased Mr. Torme's 
          phenomenal flexibility as both a singer and an arranger with an enthusiasm 
          for his subject that matched his encyclopedic knowledge. Such a medley 
          might string fragments from as many as two dozen songs into a virtuosic 
          vocal (and sometimes also drum) display that would change in mood 
          every few seconds as the singer glided from the most ethereal pop 
          crooning into the sort of machine-gun driven scat improvisations that only 
          Ella Fitzgerald, in her prime, could match in precision and rhythmic 
          intensity.  

          These engagements compressed volumes worth of pop-jazz history and 
          lore into an explosion of musical energy that was as lucid as it was 
          comprehensive.  

          "I do not believe there's such a thing as a jazz singer," Mr. Torme 
          declared late in his career.  

          "Every pop singer is influenced a little by jazz, because it's our native folk 
          art," he said. "But labeling someone a jazz, rather than a pop singer, is 
          only a matter of degree of influence." 

Canoe Jam Music 
Mel Torme dead at 73

                 LOS ANGELES (CP) -- Mel Torme, the jazz 
               and pop singer whose warm vocals earned him the 
               title the Velvet Fog and who was the co-writer of 
               the Christmas Song, died Saturday. He was 73.  

                Torme had suffered what was described as a mild 
               stroke in August 1996. He died of complications 
               from that stroke after being taken from his Beverly 
               Hills home to a hospital. said his publicist, Rob 
               Wilcox.  

                Torme's wife, Ali, and five children were at his side 
               when he died, Wilcox said.  

                Torme received a lifetime achievement award from 
               the National Academy of Recording Arts and 
               Sciences at February's Grammy Awards.  

                Besides his singing and prolific songwriting, 
               Torme's career included acting in movies and on 
               television, where he drew fresh attention in the late 
               1980s on Night Court as the musical hero of main 
               character Judge Harold T. Stone, played by Harry 
               Anderson.  

                "What a remarkable guy," Anderson said 
               Saturday. "What a one of a kind. It's a tremendous 
               loss. He was fabulous guy, great sense of humour, 
               as sweet as an elf."  

                Pianist George Shearing, who won two Grammy 
               Awards with Torme, said he "humbly put forth that 
               Mel and I had the best musical marriage in many a 
               year."  

                "We literally breathed together during our 
               countless performances," Shearing said. "As Mel 
               put it, 'We were two bodies of one musical mind.'"  

                "He was a very special talent, one of the most 
               talented individuals in our business," said singer Vic 
               Damone. "A composer, musician, arranger. He was 
               so very bright."  

                "He was one of the supreme jazz singers of all 
               time, with the vocal dexterity matched only by Ella 
               Fitzgerald," said singer Jack Jones. "He had the 
               best sense of timing and a lot of heart in his work. 
               And he was a good guy."  

                Even people who had heard little of his singing 
               could not miss his other claim to musical fame: He 
               was co-writer of the lyrics and music to The 
               Christmas Song -- "Chestnuts roasting on an open 
               fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose."  

                The song was a huge hit for Nat (King) Cole in 
               1946 and has been recorded by countless other 
               singers, including Torme himself.  

                Of Torme's passion for jazz, singer Ethel Waters 
               once said, "Mel Torme is the only white man who 
               sings with the soul of a black man."  

                In his autobiography, Melvin Howard Torme, born 
               on Sept. 13, 1925, attributed at least part of that to 
               his childhood in a black section of Chicago. His 
               father, a Russian immigrant, owned a dry goods 
               store. His musical family also included a babysitter 
               who played piano in an all-woman band.  

                At age four, Torme began singing at a restaurant 
               and he spent his childhood performing in vaudeville 
               and on such radio soap operas as The Romance of 
               Helen Trent and Jack Armstrong, the All-American 
               Boy.  

                In high school, he formed his own bands and sold 
               his first song, Lament of Love, to Harry James. In 
               1942, he travelled as a singer and song arranger 
               with the Chico Marx band, where he was spotted 
               by a film executive.  

                Torme preferred jazz singing to the crooning that 
               brought him his nickname.  

                "It really wasn't until the end of my high school 
               days, in 1943, that I determined to be a jazz 
               singer," he says. "Then I got sidetracked. (His 
               manager) felt the way to the gold was for me to 
               become a crooner.  

                "For a long period I was singing mushy, 
               sentimental songs. I began to be called the Velvet 
               Fog. I never liked it."  

                He said he was rescued by a recording executive 
               who heard a bit of jazz in his style and urged him in 
               that direction.  

                He saw his vocal career as a work in progress, "a 
               long learning curve." Listening to recordings in a 
               box CD set on his career, he said: "The early songs 
               are kind of callow. I cringe a little bit at them."  

                He was his own arranger for much of his career, 
               played piano and other instruments, acted in a few 
               Hollywood films, had a TV talk show for a while in 
               the '50s, and had his occasional appearances on 
               Night Court, where Stone kept a photo of Torme 
               in his office.  

                He was nominated for a best supporting actor 
               Emmy in 1956 for a role in The Comedian, a 
               Playhouse 90 production.  

                He wrote about 300 songs, more than half, 
               including Born To Be Blue and The Christmas 
               Song, with Robert Wells.  

                When people would ask why he kept singing old 
               songs, Torme said they're simply better than new 
               songs: "When young rock singers began writing 
               their own, they displaced the community of 
               songwriters who worked with grace, wit, charm, 
               intelligence and brilliance.  

                "Absolutely the lyric to me is 95 per cent of what a 
               song is. The singer is portraying a playlet to the 
               audience, involving the audience in what he is 
               saying. If the melody is attractive, that's frosting on 
               the cake. The lyric is the cake."  

                At 70, he said he maintained his vocal strength by 
               taking care of himself: no smoking, only an 
               occasional glass of wine, careful avoidance of 
               drafts.  

                "Before I sing I force myself to have seven or eight 
               hours of sleep. I can sing acceptably well on six 
               hours. There is that little grade of difference 
               between six hours and eight hours."  

                In a 1994 concert at Carnegie Hall, he joked 
               about his age. In "You Make Me Feel So Young," 
               the 68-year-old Torme sang: "You know that age is 
               just a number," then interjected "If I could really 
               believe that."  

                Torme was married and divorced from actress 
               Candy Toxton, model Arlene Miles and actress 
               Janette Scott. With them, he had five children. In 
               1984, he wed Ali Severson, a lawyer.  

                He is survived by his wife and five children -- 
               Steve, Melissa, Tracy, Daisy, and James. 

 
  
Mel Tormé Remembered 

                    By Drew Wheeler 

                    When Mel Tormé died June 5 of 
                    complications from a stroke, he 
                    left behind friends and admirers 
                    without number. Mourners at his 
                    funeral included his friends Steve 
                    Allen, Mel Brooks, Cliff Robertson, 
                    Hugh Hefner, Donald O'Connor, 
                    Rhonda Fleming, Robert Culp, 
                    Nancy Sinatra, writer Harlan 
                    Ellison, and many more whose 
                    claim was simply that of Mel 
                    Tormé fan.  

                    Many who knew Tormé for his warm vocal resonance and 
                    slippery scat singing might not have known of his extensive 
                    dramatic resumé. Among his numerous film appearances was the 
                    1948 musical Words and Music, where he costarred with Mickey 
                    Rooney. They teamed again for "The Comedian," a 1956 
                    Playhouse 90 TV production that earned Tormé an Emmy 
                    nomination for his role as the weak-willed younger brother of 
                    Rooney's obnoxious comic. Rooney told CDNOW: "Mel was more 
                    than just a talent and a friend. He really was my brother."  

                    Jazz piano icon George Shearing recorded a series of highly 
                    successful albums with Tormé, including Grammy winners An 
                    Evening With George Shearing & Mel Tormé and Top Drawer.  

                                       George Shearing: "Mel was a musician. I 
                                       felt freer to use my instantaneous 
                                       imagination when playing for Mel without 
                                       throwing Mel, because if I changed a 
                                       chord or anything, he'd be on what I'm 
                                       doing within a split-second. And it was 
                                       just a miraculous voice, and that will 
                                       never be replaced. There are people like 
                                       that who are given to us as one of a 
                                       kind. And he was. He and I loved lyrics. 
                    He played a little piano. He wasn't my favorite pianist, and I 
                    wasn't his favorite singer."  

                    Veteran bassist Jay Leonhardt played in Tormé's combo from 
                    1980 to 1995 and remains awed by the depth of Tormé's musical 
                    knowledge.  

                    Jay Leonhardt: "He was surely one of the most educated and 
                    talented musician-singers that you'll ever hear. He was just an 
                    encyclopedia of so much of music and film and the big bands in 
                    the old days. The history of that stuff is very rich, and he knew 
                    it all. So when he talked about Art Tatum and Charlie Parker, and 
                    this one and that one, he had been with them all. He just knew 
                    everybody, and they knew him. Obviously his voice was very 
                    novel, but his musicianship was just uncanny."  

                    Tormé sang with the orchestra of the legendary Artie Shaw on a 
                    series of noted 1946 recordings. The two men remained friends 
                    over the decades that followed.  

                    Artie Shaw: "We're not apt to see his likeness again very soon. 
                    He was one of the truly fine singers. He was also a very good 
                    musician. The two don't go together very often."  

                    What was it about his approach to music that made him 
                    different?  

                    "He had a musical sensibility; he sang musically. There used to 
                    be a gag about him -- this is when he was struggling -- 'Why 
                    doesn't he get more popular?' And somebody said, 'because he 
                    sings too well in tune . . .' I made him sing on a record I made 
                    many years ago called 'Get Out of Town.' It was one of the best 
                    vocals I'd ever heard. At that time, he sang so quietly -- these 
                    were sort of the 'Velvet Fog' years -- and we had to separate 
                    him with a lot of baffles so the sound of the orchestra didn't leak 
                    into his mike. But it was a remarkable recording; still very good 
                    today."  

                    Pianist John Colianni was only 28 when he joined Tormé's group 
                    in 1991. He developed a strong personal and musical bond with 
                    the man nearly 40 years his senior.  

                    John Colianni: "He had one of the 
                    world's largest collections of Colt 45 
                    guns. He collected train sets, old comic 
                    books, Bakelite, all these things. 
                    Extremely well-read. Always had a book. 
                    He'd read a novel in a couple of days, and 
                    then he'd say, 'Here, kid' -- 'kid' is a term 
                    of endearment -- and I'd read his leftover 
                    books."  

                    What was it like to accompany him?  

                    "The interplay was unbelievable. He would encourage you to play 
                    more, not less. Most singers would say, 'Stay out of my way.' 
                    He would say, 'Give me more; I'm stimulated by the interplay. 
                    Play, we'll feed off each other.'"  

                    Noted Canadian vibraphonist Peter Appleyard toured Japan with 
                    Tormé and participated in some of Tormé's most acclaimed 
                    recent albums for Concord Records.  

                    Peter Appleyard "We did this Benny Goodman medley. And 
                    when we came to 'Sing, Sing Sing,' Mel said to [clarinetist] Phil 
                    Bodner, 'Play the Goodman solo.' And Phil said, 'I don't know it.' 
                    So Mel said, 'Oh all right, give me some manuscript paper.' And 
                    he sits down at the table and writes out the whole Goodman 
                    solo from memory. That was incredible."  

                    One of Tormé's five children, Tracy Tormé is a television writer 
                    currently working on an upcoming animated science fiction series 
                    called Doomsday. He offered a perspective on Mel Tormé that 
                    few would've anticipated.  

                    Tracy Tormé: "I think that he always had a boyish enthusiasm. 
                    He kind of was a big kid in a lot of ways like that. A lot of the 
                    things he loved as a kid, he maintained his love of those things 
                    as he got older. He loved those Big Little Books from the '30s 
                    and '40s. He loved model trains. He built model airplanes very 
                    meticulously."  

                    In a household full of kids, did you ever mess up any of his 
                    collections?  

                    "We had a Ping-Pong table that was in a room where a lot of his 
                    model airplanes were hanging up on the ceiling. Many times we 
                    would hit those airplanes with the Ping-Pong balls, and a 
                    propeller would come off, or a wheel would come off, and we'd 
                    always do this frantic patching job and put 'em back up there 
                    before he could notice."  

                    Given his famous dislike for rock, did he take much interest 
                    in your musical tastes?  

                    "He became a huge Steely Dan fan. He thought Steely Dan were 
                    absolute geniuses, especially Donald Fagen. He also liked James 
                    Taylor; he liked Bonnie Raitt; and believe it or not, he liked Bread 
                    -- he thought David Gates was a really great writer."  

                    No one's gonna believe this . . .  

                    "I know. He liked the little bit of Jackson Browne that I played 
                    for him. Somebody that I definitely got him into was Todd 
                    Rundgren. I think his legendary dislike of rock & roll was 
                    overstated. He was quoted a lot in the '60s about how he hated 
                    it, but as the years drew on he developed a certain respect for 
                    a lot of it. He did a couple of rock concerts. He did something in 
                    Seattle that most people can't believe, where there was like a 
                    70,000-person open stadium concert, and he came on right after 
                    Mudhoney. He said it was one of the greatest audiences he ever 
                    had, and they just gave him standing ovation after standing 
                    ovation."  

 

 

OBITUARY
BIOGRAPHY
LINKS TOP
 
 
 
 
 

 
BIOGRAPHY
 
 
AKA: real name: Melvin Howard Torme 
Born: Sep 13, 1925 in Chicago, IL 
Died: June 4, 1999 
MEL TORMÉ 
  

                               My Night to Dream (CCD-4790), a cherry-picked 
                               compendium of ballad performances from the last 15 
                               years, catches Tormé at the peak of his singing career 
                               with a voice that continued to grow stronger and more 
                               flexible at a time of life where even many great singers 
                               have begun or continued to fade. Pianist George 
                               Shearing, Torméís frequent recording partner at 
                               Concord Jazz, appears frequently in this collection, 
                               contributing among other things, a remarkable 
                               impressionistic introduction to "After The Waltz Is Over" 
                               and a Beethoven-like interlude within "How Do You Say 
                               Auf Wiedersehen?" "Angel Eyes," with Cleo Laine 
                               blending seamlessly with Tormeís upper range, has 
                               striking, perhaps even mocking writing for solo winds 
                               and brass by none other than Mel Tormé - and Rob 
                               McConnellís Boss Brass supply the delicate 
                               underpinnings on "If You Could See Me Now," "A House 
                               Is Not A Home" and "Iíll Be Around." 

                               Born on Sep. 13, 1925, Torméís show business career 
                               began early - very early - like at the age of four when he 
                               sang "Youíre Driving Me Crazy!" at the Blackhawk club 
                               in his hometown, Chicago. Melís lifelong fascination 
                               with the drums was also ignited that day, and he 
                               became a radio actor by the age of nine and published 
                               his first song,"Lament To Love," at 15. At the age of 16, 
                               Tormé was recruited by bandleader and family friend 
                               Ben Pollack to join the Chico Marx band as a singer, 
                               vocal arranger and drummer. After the Marx band broke 
                               up in 1943, he began acting in motion pictures. And if 
                               that wasnít enough for a teenager, at 19, Tormé assured 
                               himself a place in the pantheon of songwriters when he 
                               and his partner Bob Wells wrote "The Christmas 
                               Song," now an indestructible holiday standard thanks to 
                               Nat King Coleís 1946 hit recording. 

                               During the war, Tormé found a vocal quartet from Los 
                               Angeles City College called the Schoolkids and 
                               transformed them into the Mel-Tones, with himself as 
                               vocal arranger and lead singer. The group made records 
                               for the Jewel, Decca and Musicraft labels, but after their 
                               farewell appearance in Nov. 1946, Tormé went solo. In 
                               an era where ballad singers were in demand, Tormé had 
                               become one of the more prominent members of the 
                               club, tagged with a catchy nickname that described his 
                               then-high-pitched, effortlessly sustained, softly-rounded 
                               crooning style to a T - the "Velvet Fog." He recorded 
                               several solo 78 RPM singles for Musicraft, beginning 
                               appropriately with "Youíre Driving Me Crazy!"- and into 
                               the 1950s and `60s, made strings of recordings for 
                               Capitol, Coral, Bethlehem, English Decca, Philips, 
                               Verve, Atlantic and Columbia. 

                               As the years passed, Tormé continued to evolve as a 
                               singer, making the transition from the "Velvet Fog" to 
                               jazz singing, probing more deeply into his material and 
                               developing into the most agile improvising scat artist 
                               this side of his idol, Ella Fitzgerald. Along the way, he 
                               received accolades from fellow singing masters like 
                               Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, who once said in a 
                               radio interview, "Heís the most fantastic musical 
                               performer I think weíve ever had ... the best musical 
                               entertainer Iíve ever seen."  

                               With the resurgence of interest in mainstream jazz and 
                               pop standards in the 1980s, Torméís career ascended 
                               to a new level of respect and popularity among jazz and 
                               popular music audiences - even among the young. A 
                               1982 live album recorded at San Franciscoís Hotel Mark 
                               Hopkins, An Evening With George Shearing and Mel 
                               Tormé (CCD-4190), became the first of a long, 
                               distinguished string of albums for Concord Jazz, by far 
                               his most fruitful recording period in the collective 
                               judgment of music critics. Among many other discs, the 
                               Tormé Concord Jazz catalogue also includes five more 
                               records with Shearing, two with the superb 
                               Toronto-based Rob McConnell and The Boss Brass 
                               (CCD-4306 and Velvet & Brass CCD-4667), and live 
                               recordings at the Concord Pavilion (CCD-4382), the 
                               Fujitsu-Concord Jazz Festival (CCD-4481) and the 
                               Disney Institute in Orlando, Florida (An Evening With 
                               Mel Tormé CCD-4736). The latter concert was televised 
                               on the A&E cable channel in 1996. 

                               Yet throughout his life, Tormé has not been content 
                               merely to develop his vocal talent - or, given the fickle 
                               realities of the music business, to rely upon singing 
                               totally. Though unschooled in music in the academic 
                               sense, with the help of Marty Paich and other informal 
                               teachers, Tormé learned to create his own sonorous 
                               arrangements for big bands and symphony orchestras. 
                               He maintained his technique as a drummer, and over 
                               the span of several decades, he would be asked to sit in 
                               with several prominent big bands as well as manning 
                               the traps in featured spots in his own concerts. 

                               Tormé continued to act now and then, earning an Emmy 
                               nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his 
                               performance in the 1957 Playhouse 90 show "The 
                               Comedian," hosting and performing on the 1971 TV 
                               series It Was A Very Good Year. Undoubtedly 
                               Torméís popularity in the `80s received a large boost 
                               from his appearances on the television comedy series 
                               Night Court, where he played himself as Judge Harry 
                               Stoneís (Harry Anderson) singing idol. His visibility in 
                               the mass culture of the `90s was boosted even higher 
                               by his feats of derring-"dew" on TV commercials for 
                               Mountain Dew and appearances on MTV, Seinfeld, the 
                               Tonight Show and The Late Show with David 
                               Letterman. 

                               Always a voracious reader, Tormé started writing 
                               articles for newspapers and magazines and scripts for 
                               television, eventually serving as a writer of special 
                               material for The Judy Garland Show on CBS-TV in 
                               1963-64. That memorable and harrowing experience led 
                               to his first book, The Other Side Of The Rainbow, a 
                               compulsively readable memoir of the Garland series 
                               which revealed that Tormé is practically as fine a writer 
                               as he is a singer. Tormé followed that volume with a 
                               novel, Wynner, an emotionally gripping autobiography, 
                               It Wasnít All Velvet, a candid biography of his old 
                               friend Buddy Rich, Traps, The Drum Wonder, and an 
                               encyclopedic tribute to his musical colleagues, My 
                               Singing Teachers. 

                               Though his work is primarily in the fields of American 
                               popular music and jazz, Tormé has always loved 
                               classical music as well, being an especially fervent 
                               devotee of the works of Frederick Delius and Percy 
                               Grainger. Fascinated with aircraft, he became a 
                               licensed pilot, flying small planes to and from his gigs. 
                               And he has been an indefatigable collector of antique 
                               guns, electric trains, records, books, and memorabilia 
                               from his childhood. 

                               Truly Mel Tormé remains one of the most astounding 
                               multiple-threat talents of our time. 

                               By Richard S. Ginell

 
 
  
 
 

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