Welcome to part two of the Mel Tormé story with William Price King. William has enjoyed a long and successful career as a Jazz composer, musician and singer and over the last thirty years he has delighted audiences with his performances of the classic Jazz standards sung by iconic artists of the last century such as Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé.
You can find a link at the bottom of the post to William’s directory and his previous series on the life and music of Nat King Cole, but this week it is time to look at the 1940s and the start of Mel Tormé’s long career in music, television and film.
Mel Tormé was born in 1925 in Chicago to hard working Russian Jewish immigrant parents whose surname was actually Torma.
The Blackhawk restaurant – image by http://www.diningchicago.com
His singing career took off at a very early age and at four years old he was entertaining the diners at The Blackhawk Restaurant in Chicago. The Blackhawk was opened in 1920 and the Big Band headliners at the time were the Coon-Sanders Orchestra. Quite the mouthful especially for a small boy of four who sang ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ for the first time with them in 1929.
This was a hugely popular venue and in later years Mel would perform there from time to time along with the other great musicians. Here is the Coon- Sanders Orchestra in 1928 with “Rhythm King” Courtesy of Phonmono78s
From 1933, between the ages of 8 and 16, Mel acted on radio in two soap operas of the day, The Romance of Helen Trent and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. During this period Mel turned his hand to song writing and by only 16 years old, his first published song, “Lament to Love,” was a hit for the very popular trumpeter Harry James. He also sang, arranged and played drums in a band led by Chico Marx who also headlined at the Blackhawk Restaurant.
Here is Mel’s first song performed by Harry James – Courtesy of MusicProf78
Whilst he sang and wrote music, Mel was also finishing his education at Chicago’s Hyde Park High School. Whilst at night and weekends he was playing and singing at the upmarket eatery, during the day he played drums in his school’s drum and bugle corps. He also debuted in his first film alongside another up and coming actor and singer, Frank Sinatra in “Higher and Higher” in 1943 before graduating from High School in 1944.
On graduating from school Mel formed a vocal quintet “Mel Tormé and His Mel-Tones” among the first of the jazz-influenced vocal groups. The group had several hits with Artie Shaw’s band and on their own, including Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Courtesy of The Record Changer.
Although Mel would not go solo until 1947, he did record romantic hits for Decca Records and the Musicraft label with the Arti Shaw Orchestra from 1945-1948. In 1947 he began his solo career at the famous New York nightclub, Copacabana and it is here that he allegedly received his nickname ‘The Velvet Fog’ bestowed by a local DJ as a tribute. Although Mel was not impressed and referred to it as ‘this Velvet Frog voice’. This is at odds with what the critics felt about his voice as illustrated in this quote from Will Friedwald Jazz Singing
“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.”
Along with Mel’s developing solo career came a part in the Rogers & Hart film Words and Music in which he sang ‘Blue Moon’ and a revival of The Mel Torme Show from his teen years. More movie song writing assignments came along for studios such as Walt Disney and in early 1949 he was signed to Capitol Records.
The hits kept coming including ‘Careless Hands,’ ‘Again’ and ‘Blue Moon’ through to ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,’ in July1950. The focus was on the music and his film career faded away in comparison to Frank Sinatra who was becoming increasingly popular across both film and music industries. Mel felt that he had been born just a few years too late to benefit from the huge popularity of both the era of the Big Band and Hollywood musicals.
His last chart hit for nearly ten years was with ‘Anywhere I Wander’ in November 1952 which was to be prophetic, as Mel Torme entered the 50s with no real direction and began to compete with the new popular music that was taking over the charts.
Part three next Saturday with the challenges that Mel faced in the 50s and early 60s. Join us on Wednesday for a special performance by William of one of the timeless songs of the era – My Funny Valentine.
William Price King – Jazz composer, musician and singer.
William Price King is an American jazz singer, musician and composer. Originally he studied classical music and opera but over the years his style has evolved to what many refer to as the ‘sweet point’ where music and voice come together so beautifully.
His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Torme. His debut jazz album is called ‘Home,’ a collection of contemporary songs and whilst clearly a homage to their wonderful legacy it brings a new and refreshing complexity to the vocals that is entrancing.
William is currently in France where he performs in popular Jazz Venues in Nice and surrounding area. His album ‘Home’ is available to download and more details in the Buy Music for Christmas.
Links to website – http://www.williampriceking.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WilliamPriceKing
Twitter – @wpkofficial
Regular Venue – http://cave-wilson.com/