Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 13 September 1925, Chicago IL; d 5 June 1999) Singer, composer; also producer, pianist, drummer, writer, actor. One of the great jazz singers, his reputation for quality mainstream work unsullied by decades of ups and downs in the music business. He sang on radio with Coon/Sanders at age four, acted in radio soap operas at nine; toured with a band fronted by Chico Marx '42-3; formed group the Mel-Tones, recording under that name and with Artie Shaw '45-6 on Majestic; went solo. Hits on Decca with the Mel-Tones and Eugenie Baird on 'I Fall In Love Too Easily' (band singer Baird worked with Tony Pastor, Casa Loma band, on radio; she had an album on Design of Duke Ellington songs), with Bing Crosby on 'Day By Day' '45-6; Mel-Tones' own 'It's Dreamtime' '47 on Majestic; Tormé solo hits on Capitol '49-52 included no. 1 'Careless Hands' '49, top tens 'Bewitched' (with band led by Stan Kenton arranger Pete Rugolo) and duet 'The Old Master Painter' with Peggy Lee '50.

Known as 'The Velvet Fog' during the Mel-Tones period, he opened up c.'55 recording for Bethlehem and sang the way he really wanted to sing and his range increased about an octave, his art well suited to the golden age of mid-'50s, when he and others made albums for grownups backed by arrangers like Marty Paich while American radio broadcast only jingles. After that he did a lot of his own arrangements. He had begun writing songs at 15: 'Lament To Love' was a hit by Les Brown, top ten by Harry James '41; also 'A Stranger In Town' '44 (by Martha Tilton on Capitol '45), 'Christmas Song' '46 ('Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire'; hit record by Nat Cole), 'Born To Be Blue' '47, 'County Fair' '48 (in Disney's So Dear To My Heart), the last three co-written with Robert Wells (Robert Wells Levinson, b Raymond WA; he also collaborated with Cy Coleman, Henry Mancini, others), also 'Born To Be Blue', others. His composition California Suite on Capitol '49 with the Mel-Tones was later on Discovery. He acted in more than a dozen mostly pleasant and forgettable films '43-60 (e.g. Junior Miss and Let's Go Steady '45); did a TV show with Peggy Lee '51, got his own half-hour talk show that lasted until '58; he was nominated for an Emmy '56 as best supporting actor in Playhouse 90's The Comedian.
Albums included Sings About Love '58 on Audiophile; LPs on Bethlehem '50s were Lulu's Back In Town and Sings Fred Astaire (both with Paich) and It's A Blue World with Al Pellegrini; also Prelude To A Kiss with Paich on Fresh Sound; My Kind Of Music, Duke Ellington/Count Basie Songbooks, Tormé (with Frank Rosolino), Back In Town (with the Mel-Tones) were all on Verve; Atlantic LPs '60s included Live At The Maisonette (Gershwin arrangements, nominated for a Grammy), At The Red Hill, Comin' Home Baby (title track a top 40 hit '62), Sunday In New York (title track from a film soundtrack). The Mel Tormé Collection 1944-85 on Rhino is an excellent four-CD compilation; In New York '82 on Jazz Door made live with the Mike Renzi Trio included the Astaire tribute. His latest career was on Concord Jazz: An Evening With George Shearing And Mel Tormé '82 won a Grammy; Top Drawer and An Evening At Charlie's '83, An Elegant Evening '85 also with Shearing; also big-band set Mel Tormé With Rob McConnell And The Boss Brass '86. (Robert Murray Gordon McConnell, b 14 February 1935 in London Ontario, d 1 May 2010 in Toronto, was Canada's best-loved big-band leader, selling out many a festival.) Reunion '87 and In Concert Tokyo '88 brought Tormé back together with the Marty Paich Dektette; Mel And George 'Do' World War II '90 with Shearing; Nothing Without You '92 with Cleo Laine also featured John Dankworth and Guy Barker; A Tribute To Bing Crosby '94 had Alan Broadbent on piano; An Evening With... '96 was as strong as ever, backed by the Renzi trio. The Great American Songbook '92 on Telarc is also the name of the nation-wide tour he was then doing. Reissues of vintage tracks included Easy To Remember on Hindsight and CDs with the Mel-Tones on Musicraft. Together Again, For The First Time on Mobile Fidelity celebrated a long friendship with Buddy Rich, who died '87; Tormé wrote a good book Traps The Drum Wonder: The Life Of Buddy Rich about him, as well as anecdotal My Singing Teachers and autobiography It Wasn't All Velvet. His career ended when he had a severe stroke in the late 1990s.