Jazz Stories
4:48 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Bob Perkins Recommends...

Mel Torme: The Best of the Concord Years

There's an old saying that pays tribute to multi-talented people by suggesting that such people are larger than the sum of their parts. Read on and determine if this artist earns such credit.

As a child of four years, Torme made his debut as an entertainer when he performed an impromptu rendition of "You're Driving Me Crazy," at Chicago's famed Blackhawk restaurant. From that time on, his career - which saw him as a singer, drummer, pianist songwriter and actor - spanned 65 years.

Over the next 10 years of his life, Torme acted in radio serials. At age 16, he wrote his first song, "Lament to Love," which was a hit for bandleader Harry James. He then became the singer, drummer, and arranger for a band led by Chico Marx, one of the Marx Brothers. And while still a teenager, he wrote the words to "The Christmas Song," commonly subtitled "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire."

During the mid '40s, Torme formed the vocal group The Mel-Tones, which some years later set the tone for the Hi-Los, The Four Freshmen, and Manhattan Transfer. At 22, he made his film debut with Frank Sinatra in Higher and Higher. Because of Torme's beautiful tenor voice, which he could effortlessly lower to a smoky baritone, he was dubbed "The Velvet Fog" by the popular DJ Fred Robbins. Torme hated the tag; however, it followed him throughout his career.

Over the next 10 years, Torme became a well-known entertainer, cutting some fine jazz sides with master arranger Marty Paich. The sixties and seventies were lean for many great singers - Sinatra and Tony Bennett included; this due to the popularity of the Beatles and other young rock groups from the UK.

During the 1980s, Torme and pianist George Shearing made a handful of albums - all gems!
Torme was on an artistic roll, recording frequently and playing club and concert dates that took him into the 1990s. His travels brought him to the Philly area quite often - primarily to the Red Hill Inn and the Rendezvous. Ill health befell him in the latter '90s, and he passed away in 1999 at age 69.

The Concord Records compilation: Mel Torme: The Best of the Concord Years, is clearly, the best of "The Velvet Fog." --BP