Melvin Howard Tormé (September 13, 1925 – June 5, 1999),
nicknamed The Velvet Fog, was an American musician, best known as a
singer of jazz standards. He was also a jazz composer and arranger,
drummer, an actor in radio, film, and television, and the author of
five books. He composed the music for "The Christmas Song" ("Chestnuts
Roasting on an Open Fire") and co-wrote the lyrics with Bob Wells.
1 Child prodigy and teen idol
5 Failing health and death
6 Writing and songwriting
11 See also
13 External links
Child prodigy and teen idol
Melvin Howard Tormé was born in Chicago, Illinois, to immigrant
Russian Jewish parents whose surname had been Torma. A child
prodigy, he first performed professionally at age 4 with the
Coon-Sanders Orchestra, singing "You're Driving Me Crazy" at Chicago's
He played drums in the drum-and-bugle corps at Shakespeare Elementary
School. From 1933–41, he acted in the radio programs The Romance of
Helen Trent and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. He wrote his
first song at 13. Three years later his first published song, "Lament
to Love," became a hit for bandleader Harry James.
From 1942 to 1943 he was a member of a band led by
Chico Marx of the
Marx Brothers. He was the singer, drummer, and also did some
In 1943, Tormé made his movie debut in Frank Sinatra's first film,
the musical Higher and Higher. His appearance in the 1947 film
musical Good News made him a teen idol.
In 1944 he formed the vocal quintet
Mel Tormé and His Mel-Tones,
Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers. The Mel-Tones, which
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-Lo's, The Four Freshmen, and The Manhattan Transfer.
Tormé 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,
He was discharged from the Army in 1946, and soon returned to a life
of radio, television, movies, and music. In 1947, he started a solo
singing career. His appearances at New York's Copacabana led local
disc jockey Fred Robbins to give him the nickname "The Velvet Fog" in
honor of his high tenor and smooth vocal style. Tormé detested the
nickname. He self-deprecatingly referred to it as "this Velvet Frog
voice". As a solo singer, he recorded several romantic hits for
Decca Records and with the
Artie Shaw Orchestra on the
(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 songs. His composition
California Suite, prompted by Gordon Jenkins's "Manhattan Tower,"
became Capitol's first 12-inch LP album. Around this time, he helped
pioneer cool jazz.
He had a radio program, Mel Torme Time, which appeared on the
Progressive Broadcasting System in the 1950s.
From 1955 to 1957, he recorded seven vocal jazz albums for Red Clyde's
Bethlehem Records, all with groups led by Marty Paich, most notably
Mel Tormé and the
Marty Paich Dek-Tette. He became known for his
arranging skills, and with his other talents earned the respect of
In his 1994 book My Singing Teachers, Tormé cited Patty Andrews, lead
singer of the Andrews Sisters, one of the most successful show
business acts of the 1940s, as one of his favorite vocalists, saying,
"They had more hit records to their credit than you could count, and
one of the main reasons for their popularity was Patty Andrews. She
stood in the middle of her sisters, planted her feet apart, and belted
out solos as well as singing the lead parts with zest and confidence.
The kind of singing she did cannot be taught, it can't be studied in
books, it can't be written down. Long experience as a singer and
wide-open ears were her only teachers, and she learned her lessons
Though he spent most of his career singing jazz, Tormé had a deep
appreciation for classical music, especially that of Frederick Delius
and Percy Grainger.
Rock and roll
Rock and roll he considered "three-chord
In the 1960s and '70s, Tormé covered pop tunes of the day, never
staying long with one label. He had two minor hits: his 1956 recording
of "Mountain Greenery," which did better in the United Kingdom where
it reached No. 4; and his 1962 R&B song "Comin' Home Baby",
arranged by Claus Ogerman, which reached No. 13 in the UK. The latter
recording led the jazz and gospel singer
Ethel Waters to say that
"Tormé is the only white man who sings with the soul of a black man."
"Comin' Home Baby" was later covered by
Quincy Jones and Kai Winding.
In 1960, Tormé appeared in the TV crime drama
Dan Raven with Don
Dubbins. He had a role in a cross-cultural western entitled Walk Like
a Dragon, starring Jack Lord. He played "The Deacon", a bible-quoting
gunfighter who protects a female saloon-owner and teaches a young
Chinese man the art of the fast draw. In one scene, he tells a
soon-to-be victim: "Say your prayers, brother Masters. You're a
corpse" and then delivers on the promise. Like
Sammy Davis Jr.
Sammy Davis Jr. and
Robert Fuller, Tormé was a real-life fast-draw expert. He also sang
the show's theme song.
In 1963–1964, Tormé wrote songs and arrangements for The Judy
Garland Show, where he made three guest appearances. When he and
Garland had a dispute, he was fired. 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 excessively unflattering picture of Garland and that Tormé
had exaggerated his contributions to the program; it led to an
unsuccessful lawsuit by Garland's family.
Tormé made nine guest appearances as himself on the 1980s situation
comedy Night Court. The main character, Judge Harry Stone played by
Harry Anderson, was depicted as an unabashed Tormé fan, an admiration
that Anderson shared in real-life; he would deliver the eulogy at
Tormé's funeral. Tormé appeared in Mountain Dew commercials and on
an episode of the sitcom
Seinfeld ("The Jimmy"). He recorded a version
of Nat King Cole's "Straighten Up and Fly Right" with his son, singer
Steve March Tormé. He worked with his other son, television
writer-producer Tracy Tormé, on Sliders. The 1996 episode, entitled
"Greatfellas," featured Tormé as a version of himself from a parallel
universe in which he is a country music singer who is also an FBI
In the 1988 Warner Bros. cartoon The Night of the Living Duck, Daffy
Duck has to sing in front of several monsters but lacks a good singing
voice, so he inhales a substance called "Eau de Tormé" and sings like
Mel Tormé, who provided the vocals.:p. 176
The resurgence of vocal jazz in the 1970s resulted in a fertile period
for Tormé. His live performances restored his reputation as a jazz
singer. He performed as often as 200 times a year in venues all over
the world. In 1976, he won an
Edison Award (the Dutch equivalent of
the Grammy) for best male singer, and a
Down Beat award for best male
jazz singer. For several years, his appearances at Michael's Pub
Upper East Side
Upper East Side would unofficially open New York's fall cabaret
During the 1980s and 1990s he performed often with George Shearing,
recording six albums together for Concord Records. About this
period Shearing wrote:
It is impossible to imagine a more compatible musical partner... 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
He reunited with
Marty Paich for a tour and the albums
Mel Tormé and
Marty Paich Dektette – In Concert Tokyo and
Mel Tormé and the
Marty Paich Dektette – Reunion. He performed with Rob McConnell's
big band and recorded Mel Tormé,
Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass. In
1995 he toured with Ken Peplowski.
Tormé on drums with
Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson
Tormé made a guest vocal appearance on the 1983 album Born to Laugh
at Tornadoes by the progressive pop band Was (Not Was). Tormé sang
the satiric jazz song "Zaz Turned Blue" about a teenager who is choked
as part of an erotic asphyxiation ("Steve squeezed his neck/He figured
what the heck") – and who may or may not have suffered brain damage
as a result ("Now he plays lots of pool/And as a rule/He wears a silly
grin/On his chin").
In 1991 Tormé published Traps, the Drum Wonder, a biography of
drummer Buddy Rich, who was his friend since Rich left the
1944. He also owned and played a drum set that drummer
Gene Krupa used
for many years. George Spink, treasurer of the
Jazz Institute of
Chicago from 1978 to 1981, recalled that Tormé played this drum set
at the 1979
Jazz Festival with
Benny Goodman on "Sing, Sing,
Failing health and death
Mel Tormé's grave
On August 8, 1996, a stroke ended Tormé's 65-year singing career. In
February 1999, he was awarded the
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
He died from another stroke on June 5, 1999 at the age of 73. He is
buried at the
Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
In his eulogistic essay, John Andrews wrote:
Tormé's style shared much with that of his idol, Ella Fitzgerald.
Both were firmly rooted in the foundation of the swing era, but both
seemed able to incorporate bebop innovations to keep their
performances sounding fresh and contemporary. Like Sinatra, they sang
with perfect diction and brought out the emotional content of the
lyrics through subtle alterations of phrasing and harmony. Ballads
were characterized by paraphrasing of the original melody which always
seemed tasteful, appropriate and respectful to the vision of the
songwriter. Unlike Sinatra, both Fitzgerald and Tormé were likely to
cut loose during a swinging up-tempo number with several scat
choruses, using their voices without words to improvise a solo like a
brass or reed instrument.
Writing and songwriting
Tormé's books include The Other Side of the Rainbow (1970), a memoir
of his time as musical adviser for Judy Garland's television show;
Traps, the Drum Wonder (1991), a biography of Buddy Rich; My Singing
Teachers: Reflections on Singing Popular Music (1994); Wynner (1978) a
novel; and It Wasn't All Velvet (1988), his autobiography.
Tormé wrote more than 250 songs, several of which became standards.
He often wrote the arrangements for the songs he sang. He collaborated
with Bob Wells on his most popular composition, "The Christmas Song"
(1946), which was recorded first by Nat King Cole. Tormé said that he
wrote the music in 45 minutes, and that it was not one of his
favorites, calling it "my annuity". The song's verse ("All through
the year..."), which is rarely sung, was added by Tormé in
Mel Tormé discography
Higher and Higher (1943)
Ghost Catchers (1944)
Pardon My Rhythm (1944)
Resisting Enemy Interrogation (1944) (documentary)
Let's Go Steady (1945)
Junior Miss (1945)
The Crimson Canary (1945) (drums dubber)
Janie Gets Married
Janie Gets Married (1946)
Good News (1947)
Words and Music (1948)
Duchess of Idaho
Duchess of Idaho (1950)
The Fearmakers (1958)
The Big Operator (1959)
Girls Town (1959)
Walk Like a Dragon
Walk Like a Dragon (1960)
The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960)
The Patsy (1964) (Cameo)
A Man Called Adam (1966) (Cameo)
Land of No Return (1978)
Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got (1985) (documentary)
The Night of the Living Duck (1988) (short subject) (voice)
Daffy Duck's Quackbusters
Daffy Duck's Quackbusters (1988) (voice)
The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991) (Cameo)
Mel Tormé Show (1951–1952)
TV's Top Tunes (host in 1951)
Faye Emerson's Wonderful Town (1 episode, 1952)
Summertime U.S.A. (1953)
Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole Show (July 9, 1957)
The Comedian (1957) (written by Rod Serling, directed by John
Playhouse 90, as Lester Hogarth in "The Comedian" (1957)
The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom
The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom (January 7, 1960)
U.S. Marshal, as Johnny Fleck in "The Man Who Lived Twice" (1960)
To Tell the Truth
To Tell the Truth (panelist, 1964)
The Lucy Show
The Lucy Show as Mel Tinker (3 episodes, 1965–1967)
Sammy Davis Jr.
Sammy Davis Jr. Show (March 11, 1966)
Run for Your Life, with
Ben Gazzarra (episode writer)
You Don't Say!
You Don't Say! (guest, 1967)
The Virginian (special guest, episode writer, 1968)
The Bold Ones: The Lawyers - episode "The Crowd Pleaser" (November 2,
It Was a Very Good Year (1971) (Summer replacement series)
Chase, as Cyclops in "$35 Will Fly You to the Moon" (1974)
Pray TV (1982) (Cameo)
Hotel (1983) (pilot for series) (Cameo)
Night Court (guest appearances 1986–1992)
A Spinal Tap Reunion: The 25th Anniversary London Sell-Out (1992)
Pops Goes the Fourth (1995)
Seinfeld – "The Jimmy" (1995)
Sliders – "Greatfelllas" (1996)
Candy Toxton (February 1949 – 1955) (divorced), 2 children
Arlene Miles (1956–1965) (divorced), 1 child
Janette Scott (1966–1977) (divorced), 2 children
Ali Severson (June 5, 1984 – 1999, his death)
Tormé was survived by five children and two stepchildren, including:
Steve March-Tormé (b. 1953), singer-songwriter
Tracy Tormé (b. 1959), screenwriter and film producer
Daisy Tormé, singer, actress, broadcaster
James Tormé (b. 1973), singer
^ Bloom, Nate (December 22, 2014). "All those Holiday/Christmas Songs:
So Many Jewish Songwriters!". Jewish World Review.
^ Bloom, Nate (2006-12-19). "The Jews Who Wrote Christmas Songs".
InterfaithFamily. Retrieved 2006-12-19.
^ Knack, Bob (2002). "Bringing Down The Blackhawk".
Jazz Institute of
Chicago. Archived from the original on 2009-01-06. Retrieved
^ a b c d e Budds, Michael; Kernfeld, Barry (2002). Kernfeld, Barry,
ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. 3 (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's
Dictionaries Inc. p. 769. ISBN 1-56159-284-6.
^ "Mel Torme & The Mel-Tones". Primarily A Cappella. United
Singers International. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
^ a b c Hemming, Roy and David Hajdu (1991). Discovering Great Singers
of Classic Pop: A New Listener's Guide to the Sounds and Lives of the
Top Performers. New York: Newmarket Press. p. 177.
^ "WCFC Music Shows To Offer Wide Choice". The Raleigh Register.
November 26, 1950. p. 14. Retrieved September 5, 2015 – via
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The Andrews Sisters
The Andrews Sisters Story, University Press
of Kentucky, 2000; 289 pages.
^ Hulme, George (2008). Mel Tormé: A Chronicle of His Recordings,
Books and Films. Jefferson NC: McFarland. p. 3.
^ "Mel Tormé: A Series of Odd Jobs". Legacy.com. 13 September 2010.
Retrieved 2 September 2012.
^ Mateas, Lisa. "Walk Like a Dragon". Turner Classic Movies Film
Article. Turner Entertainment Networks. Retrieved 2 September
^ Spadoni, Mike. "The Judy Garland Show". Television Heaven. Retrieved
2 September 2012.
^ "Tormé, Steve March". KBFL Music of Your Life. Meyer
Communications. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
^ Truman, Mike. "Review: Greatfellas". Earth Prime. Archived from the
original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
^ Holden, Stephen (6 June 1999). "Mel Torme, Velvet Voice of Pop and
Jazz, Dies at 73". New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
^ "Mel Torme". concordmusicgroup.com. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
Jazz pianist dies at 91". Tributes, Inc.
Retrieved 2 September 2012.
^ Carlin, Marcello (2011). The Blue in the Air. Ropley Hants: Zero
Books. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-84694-596-0.
^ George Spink (2007-03-23). "The
Jazz Festival". Archived
from the original on 2007-08-10. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
^ John Andrews (10 June 1999). "Mel Torme, an appreciation - World
Socialist Web Site". wsws.org. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
^ Furia, Philip and Michael Lasser (2006). America's Songs: The
Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley.
New York: Routledge. p. 207. ISBN 0-415-97246-9.
Mel Tormé on IMDb
Biography and discography from vh1.com
Fuller Up Obituary
Mel Tormé and the
Marty Paich Dek-tette" by Thomas Cunniffe
Mel Tormé at Find a Grave
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