Date Posted: 2007-05-01
Mel Torme Notes
(Ed note: This time out we`re reissuing the Mel Torme World Transcription Session. We`re including both the original notes by Jim Hartley and an update by Michael Paul Lund.)
By Jim Hartley
Who could have predicted when Mel Tormé made his singing debut at the age of nine with the Coon Sanders Orchestra that he would someday become a well-known collector of antique cars. And how does he support his expensive hobby? Do you remember that he sang Blue Moon as no one else? Well, he followed up that hit by performing the same miracle on many other songs. After shedding the ‘velvet fog’ image, he continued to improve and grow as an artist. Somewhere along the way, he broke away from a pack of fine vocalists, and like the thoroughbred he is, continues to win in a crowded race. Unlike those antique cars, he seems ageless. Highly respected and outlasting most of his contemporaries, the mature Tormé has become a giant in the world of jazz and other good music.
I don’t suppose Mel Tormé is considered to be a ‘super star’ by those who measure success by the number of million-selling record singles produced. There are many, however, who have had those million-selling singles who can never achieve the status of originality or maintain the consistency of excellence that is Mel Tormé. He`s been up and down, but never out, which means that he has always been in.
There is only one Mel Tormé, yet there are several brilliant talents. He could have made it as a drummer, pianist, arranger, actor, or author. In fact, he excels in each of these secondary roles while claiming the title of best of the jazz singers. And then he is a first-rate composer. Probably his best-known song is
an annual best seller during that special season when some are roasting chestnuts on an open fire, but most of us are just content to enjoy listening to Mel’s The Christmas Song from which he probably realized greater financial rewards than all the record royalties form
the sale of Blue Moon.
Tormé was a seasoned performer when he walked into the studio to do these recordings for the World Transcription Service. Behind him were recordings for Decca, Musicraft, Capitol, those wonderful albums for Coral and Bethlehem, the London session for Phillips, the Tops session and two of the successful series of Verve LPs. That his is a perfectionist is apparent when we note the high number of some of the takes World released on the transcription discs. His choice of tunes reflects impeccable taste; compositions by Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Jimmy Van Heusen, Cole Porter and Rube Bloom are among those heard here. Tormé knowingly interprets the brilliance of lyricists Lorenz Hart, Johnny Mercer, Ira Gershwin, Carl Sigman, Alan J. Lerner and Oscar Hammerstein, II.
Irv Orton, the superior musician who produced this among the many sessions he did for World, was a master at choosing the right musicians for the job at hand. We have keyboards by Jimmy Rowles (one of the greatest jazz pianists around), and Williams Miller (the famous Bill Miller, a pianist long associated with Frank Sinatra). Bill probably brought along his old friend from the Charlie Barnet band days, bassist Phil Stevens (Stephens in the World files). John Cyr obviously doubles on vibes and percussion while the session utilizes two guitarists, Vincent Terri and Allan Reuss (poll-winner who played with Goodman,
Teagarden, Weems, Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, et al).
It is wonderful to at last have these performances available on commercial discs to become a living par of the important available recorded work contributing to the legend that is Mel Tormé.
By Michael Paul Lund
To say that Mel Tormé was a multifaceted artist is an understatement. It is true, Mel will always be known primarily as a first class singer of the Great American Songbook. The fact is however, he was also; a fine pianist, composer, arranger, writer of books (six in number), actor, drummer and a real walking dictionary of all types of nostalgia.
I am recalling now the conversations I had with him, when I was writing about his own favorite singer, Fred Astaire, and his legendary recording sessions with the Marty Paich Dek-Tette entitled ‘Tormé Sings Fred Astaire.’
A few interesting observations I would like to share about Mel which I don’t believe have been revealed before. Mel was as enthusiastic about classical music, as he was about Tin Pan Alley. II clearly remember when I brought up to him the name of British composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934). He immediately got excited and went into a fifteen minute dissertation about the composer, his works and his favorite compositions by him. He also told me how frustrated he was, trying to interest conductors in
America, to include Delius in their orchestral programs. Most of the music of Delius he had the printed sheet music for and would sit at his piano and play it. Another composer he took considerable
interest in and which I also love, was the Australian Percy Grainger. He told me how he attended all Grainger concerts he knew about, and asked me to be sure let him know about any he might not be aware of, including recordings. An acquaintance of mine who attended an all Grainger concert in the New York, said that after the concert and at the private reception that followed, Tormé walked over to the piano and without the music, just played for an hour note perfect, the music of Grainger from memory.
Tormé was a totally self-educated man, including his composing. He was a voracious reader, and interested in all forms of the creative arts, including being an avid record collector.
At his live concerts he was a tour-de-force, writing the band arrangements, conducting the orchestra, playing the piano as well as the drums and of course
singing. I remember talking to a trombone player, who often was hired to play in the pit orchestra for Tormé concerts on the East coast. He said, “there never was a singer so hip as Tormé. Most band musicians loathe singers, because they can`t read music or play any instrument.
Then in walks this short stocky guy named Tormé who did it all and dam well too. All the guys in the band dug him, because Mel was the consummate professional.”
The CD you are holding in your hands was made especially for the World Broadcasting System. It was recorded at the famous Radio Recorders studios in Hollywood, CA on December 8th and 10th 1958.
This session is interesting for two reasons. Firstly because it came about just a short time after he had left his most artistic and prolific recordings period up to that time, with the now legendary Bethlehem records in New York. His classic sessions with arranger Marty Paich made there, have never gone out
In talking with Paich about Mel he said the following and I quote ‘Mel had such an incredible ear and was such a fine musician. Often he was more prepared at sessions than the musicians were. No matter what the arrangement, he knew where the melody was at all times.”
The second reason this CD session is interesting, is that the majority of the tracks are under two minutes in length! In fact the longest track is only two minutes and sixteen seconds. The reason most likely for this was because they were all made for radio broadcasts and he was told to keep the performances short. Back in the fifties, station disc jockeys just didn`t play long tracks and in fact choose short ones. Thus in most cases on this disc, each song is given a once thru performance, from the chorus without repetition.
Despite this brevity, Mel sings every song with great feeling and beauty of vocal tone. In short, he never sounded better and the selection of tunes is impeccable.
Let`s talk about some of the tunes shall we. First off we have Cole Porter’s evergreen,I Concentrate On You . This is followed by a beautiful, tender reading of the Leo Robin/Jerome Kern standard In Love In Vain. Matt Dennis has always been, for my money, one of the most talented song writers of the past. His music has been unfairly neglected today by singers, who simply do not know his marvellous output. Mel treats us here to a gentle reading of the Dennis/Adair gem, The Night We Called It A Day..
Mel gives us a performance of his most popular holiday staple, The Christmas Song. One thing that has always bothered me when this song is mentioned, is that announcers simply say, “here’s the Christmas Song by Mel Tormé.” Well neighbor Tormé did not write “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Tormé wrote the famous melodic line that accompanies that lyric. These lyrics which go along with perhaps the most played holiday melody ever, are written by the often omitted lyricist Robert Wells. Perhaps a few words about his credits would be appropriate.
Robert Wells was born in October 1922 in Raymond, WA and believe it or not, wrote more than four hundred song lyrics. These include:Born To Be Blue, (also co-written with Tormé), From Here To Eternity,When Johanna Loved Me,î Here`s To The Losers, and countless more. Wells also wrote complete nightclub acts for performers as diverse as Dinah Shore, Shirley MacLaine, Peggy Lee, Andy Williams, Nat Cole and more.
His work for variety television was also impressive.
Another all too seldom heard ballad these days is the delightful Kern/Hammerstein song, All In Fun from
Very Warm For May 1939. Rogers & Hartís evergreen It`s Easy To Remember is given a particularly warm vocal treatment by Mel with excellent vibraphone work by John Cyr.
Now we come to my favorite selection on this entire recital and that is the ever-so-touching Old Folks by the late great Willard Robinson. Like Matt Dennis, once again we have another unfairly neglected composer. Born in Shelbina, MO in 1894, Willard had a long, productive musical life right up till his passing in 1968. He played piano well and often sang.
One of my great treasures is a 1949 10” LP with eight songs, composed, arranged, conducted and sung by Robinson. A more kindly singer you will never hear. I urge you try and find a copy of this if you can! Other songs by Robinson you would know include: Don`’t Smoke In Bed, Cottage For Sale, T’ain’t So, Honey, T’ain’t So, and lots more.
The always pleasing lyric and melody of Sure Thing (Kern/Ira Gershwin) is rendered here with great feeling and effortless beauty of tone by Mel.
Day Dreaming (Kahn-Kern) is given excellent support by all the players, and once more a tune that is seldom included by the crop of singers today.
We close this disc with a tune by the team of (Prado/Russell/Luna) entitled, Time Was. There are many other songs on this CD worth you’re discovering, simply listen with the same kind of relaxed dedication that Tormé and his ensemble put into this disc.
I’ll close by quoting again Mel’s old pal Marty Paich, “Mel had such an incredible ear and was such a fine musician, he knew where the melody was at all times.”
(Michael Paul Lund is a free lance writer and public speaker. He also since 1977, owns Serendipity Recordings, the number place to find hard-to-find-rare recordings by great and unusual cabaret singers.