What You Don't Know About Mel Tormé

Mel Tormé was one of the most intelligent of the American singers. Later in his career he thought seriously of becoming a commercial air pilot (he had flown private planes for many years.) After he told me, I imagined myself on, let's say, a United flight from LA to New York, seated comfortably, waiting for take-off. A stewardess announces:  "The weather in New York is sunny. We have good weather across the country with some high winds in the mid west. Our co-captain today is Rafael Delesandro, and our captain is Mel Tormé."

WHAT?"  I leap up.  'MEL TORME?"

What would you do?

Tormé was, of course, a remarkable jazz singer with an international following. He wrote a rather dark biography of Judy Garland, called "The Other Side of the Rainbow," and works of fiction (he wasn't Saul Bellow.) His biography of the drummer, Buddy Rich, is read to this day. By drummers. Tormé wrote "The Christmas Song" - "chestnuts roasting," and so on. He wrote other songs that never gained the stature of "The Christmas Song," but are still recorded. His "County Fair" is terrific. He recorded it three times and finally nailed it at a session in London.

He was a marvelous arranger and a good lyric writer. He was a fine drummer and a good pianist. And, as a matter of fact, a fairly fine friend. Example: we had a date to meet in my office in the back side of Carnegie Hall. I was at a voice-over call for Canada Dry club soda, but the other voice was late, and late, and late. When she finally arrived it was 1:30, the very moment Tormé was due at room 1109 in Carnegie Hall. Cell phones were well in the future. I was stuck. At 2:15 I hurried a cab driver through the 20 minute drive, guilty as sin. Tormé probably waited for ten minutes or so and then muttered his absolutely favorite word: Swine, as he took the elevator to the lobby.
I arrived dripping sweat on that August day. I raced down the hall with explanations ready to go.

But there he was, his back resting on my door. Mel Tormé had waited in an un-airconditioned hallway for an hour.

There's more to tell you about this fellow in future columns. The pumkin pie Tormé is who you should keep in mind. Honestly.