What You Don't Know About Mel Tormé

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

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.



More in:

Comments [6]

Flo Fertik from Westchester, NY

If you want to see a young and deligtful Mel Torme take out "Good News"
Loved him the best of all the male singers. Followed him to the Catskills, Michaels Pub and when my husnand was stationed in Hawaii saw him do a fabulous performance including his drums. Unfortuntely, his politics were not what I would prefer.

Jul. 03 2014 11:02 AM
allen meiselbach from ann arbor, mi

You may not agree but I always preferred Mel's singing to Frank' me he was the consummate male vocalist

Jul. 02 2014 03:19 PM
T Cassell from Las Vegas

Michael's Pub was where he held court every Autumn for many years. I was privileged to be there on several occasions through the '80's and Mel was always unbelievably fantastic. One night I sat at a table next to Julie Stein who was of course introduced from the stage by Torme who then sang a few of his compositions. After each one I overheard Stein tell his companions, "Harry Warren couldn't write a song like that" or "Jerry Herman couldn't write a song like that". Afterwards at the bar, which is where you could sometimes find Torme, I told him of Stein's comments and after a good laugh he said "I'd be saying the same thing if I wrote all those songs."

Jul. 02 2014 10:22 AM
Julie Harris

He was mad at Judy Garland because she said she thought Jack Jones was one of the best male singers. He took this as a personal insult. But he wrote "Born to be Blue" so he's entitled to his grievances!

Jul. 02 2014 07:40 AM
Michael Marsico from Charlotte NC

I love your "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plans" duet!

Jul. 01 2014 08:20 PM
Philip Wiest

Torme enjoyed deli sandwiches and spending his birthday at Michael's Pub.

Jul. 01 2014 05:40 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About The Jonathan Channel

The sounds of Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday and other masters of the American songbook can be heard 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in the world.

“The Jonathan Channel” provides an unparalleled showcase for this timeless music, presented by its strongest advocate, Jonathan Schwartz, in his intimate, insightful, and utterly original approach that combines impeccable taste with countless personal tales, colorful anecdotes and encyclopedic knowledge

The Jonathan Channel Newsletter

Connect with The Jonathan Channel

Follow @jonathanwnyc




Supported by