MEL TORMé Biography - Musicians


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Name: Mel Torme                                                                         
Born: 13 September 1925 Chicago, Illinois US                                             
Died: 5 June 1999                                                                       
Melvin Howard Torme (September 13, 1925 - June 5, 1999), nicknamed The Velvet           
Fog, was an American musician, known as one of the great male jazz singers. He           
was also a jazz composer and arranger, a drummer, an actor in radio, film, and           
television, and the author of five books. He composed the music for the classic         
holiday song "The Christmas Song".                                                       
Torme was born in Chicago, Illinois to immigrant Russian Jewish parents whose           
name had been Torma. A child prodigy, he first sang professionally at 4 with the         
Coon-Sanders Orchestra, singing "You're Driving Me Crazy," at Chicago's                 
Blackhawk restaurant. Between 1933 and 1941, he acted in the network radio               
serials The Romance of Helen Trent and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. He         
wrote his first song at 13 and three years later, his first published song, "Lament     
to Love," became a hit recording for Harry James. He played drums in Chicago's           
Shakespeare Elementary School drum and bugle corps in his early teens. While a           
teenager, he sang, arranged, and played drums in a band led by Chico Marx of the         
Marx Brothers. His formal education ended in 1944, with his graduation from             
Chicago's Hyde Park High School.                                                         
Torme works with the most beautiful voice a man is allowed to have, and he               
combines it with a flawless sense of pitch As an improviser he shames all but           
two or three other scat singers and quite a few horn players as well.                   
Will Friedwald, Jazz Singing                                                             
In 1943, Torme made his movie debut in Frank Sinatra's first film, the musical           
Higher and Higher. He went on to sing and act in a number of films and                   
television episodes throughout his career, even hosting his own television show         
in 1951-52. His appearance in the 1947 film musical Good News made him a teen           
idol for a few years.                                                                   
In that year he also formed the vocal quintet "Mel Torme and His Mel-Tones,"             
modeled after Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers. The Mel-Tones, which included           
Les Baxter and Ginny O'Connor, had several hits fronting Artie Shaw's band and           
on their own, including Cole Porter's "What is This Thing Called Love?" The Mel-Tones   
were among the first jazz-influenced vocal groups, blazing a path later followed         
by The Hi-Los, The Four Freshmen, and The Manhattan Transfer.                           
Later in 1947, Torme went solo. His singing at New York's Copacabana led a local         
disc jockey, Fred Robbins, to give him the nickname "The Velvet Fog", thinking           
to honor his high tenor and smooth vocal style, but Torme detested the nickname.         
(He self-deprecatingly referred to it as "this Velvet Frog voice.") As a solo           
singer, he recorded a number of romantic hits for Decca (1945), and with the             
Artie Shaw Orchestra on the Musicraft label (1946-48). In 1949, he moved to             
Capitol Records, where his first record, "Careless Hands," became his only               
number one hit. His versions of "Again" and "Blue Moon" became signature tunes.         
His composition "California Suite," prompted by Gordon Jenkins' "Manhattan Tower,"       
became Capitol's first 12-inch LP album. Around this time, he helped pioneer             
cool jazz.                                                                               
From 1955 to 1957, Torme recorded seven jazz vocal albums for Red Clyde's               
Bethlehem Records, all with groups led by Marty Paich, most notably Mel Torme           
with the Marty Paich Dektette. These recordings proved a creative peak for Torme         
and for Paich, a leading figure in the West Coast jazz of the time.                     
When rock & roll music (which Torme called "three-chord manure") came on the             
scene in the 1950s, commercial success became elusive. During the next two               
decades, Torme often recorded mediocre arrangements of the pop tunes of the day,         
never staying long with any particular label. He was sometimes forced to make           
his living by singing in obscure clubs. He had two minor hits, his 1956                 
recording of "Mountain Greenery," and his 1962 R&B song "Comin' Home, Baby,"             
arranged by Claus Ogerman. The latter recording led the jazz and gospel singer           
Ethel Waters to say that "Torme is the only white man who sings with the soul of         
a black man." It was later covered instrumentally by Quincy Jones and Kai               
In 1963-64, Torme wrote songs and musical arrangements for the The Judy Garland         
Show, and made two guest appearances on the show itself. However, he and Garland         
had a serious falling out, and he was fired from the series, which was canceled         
by CBS not long afterward. A few years later, after Garland's death, his time           
with her show became the subject of his first book, "The Other Side of the               
Rainbow with Judy Garland on the Dawn Patrol" (1970). Although the book was             
praised, some felt it painted an unflattering picture of Judy, and that Tormé           
had perhaps over-inflated his own contributions to the program; it led to an             
unsuccessful lawsuit by Garland's family.                                               
Other books by Mel Torme include his novel "Wynner" (1979), "It Wasn't All               
Velvet" (1988) and "My Singing Teachers Reflections on Singing Popular Music" (1994).   
Torme befriended drummer Buddy Rich the day Rich left the Marine Corps in 1942.         
Rich became the subject of Torme's book Traps The Drum Wonder: The Life of Buddy         
Rich (1987). Torme also owned and played a drumset that drummer Gene Krupa had           
used for many years. George Spink, treasurer of the Jazz Institute of Chicago           
from 1978 to 1981, recalled that Torme played this drumset at the 1979 Chicago           
Jazz Festival with Benny Goodman on the classic "Sing, Sing, Sing".                     
Although a jazz and popular musician, Torme also respected classical music,             
especially that of Frederick Delius and Percy Grainger.