It is eight years since William Price King joined Smorgasbord to share music across the genres. It is six years since we have featured the icons and delighted to showcase them again in 2022.
For over 30 years William Price King has been paying his tribute to two musicians who have influenced not just musicians, but all of us as we listened to their music. Nat King Cole and Mel Torme. Certainly many love stories began and sometimes ended whilst dancing to their music. In the next two features on the Jazz greats, William will be sharing some of their most iconic music, the musicians who influenced their passion for music and the highs and lows of their careers and personal lives.
Melvin Howard Tormé (September 13, 1925 – June 5, 1999)
Mel Tormé was a multi-talented performer across the music and film industries from the 1940s through to the 1990s and most of us of a certain age will certainly remember seeing him on television or hearing him on the radio in the 50s and 60s. What most of us will not appreciate is that many of the well-known songs of the time were written by Mel and sung by iconic stars of the day such as Nat King Cole.
Timing was everything and Mel felt that being born in 1925 rather than in the previous decade such as Frank Sinatra in 1915 and Nat King Cole in 1919, meant that he had missed the gold rush of the popularity for Big Band sound and early Jazz music. He was the crossover artist of his generation as his career bridged the transition from Big Bands and Jazz into the rock and pop era of the 60s and 70s.
His early career also encompassed the world of film and television and he became the teen idol of the late 40s and early 50s which brought him to public attention particularly with the younger generation.
Around the world however, Mel Tormé will be best remembered as a singer, although because of the transition in the music industry to pop and rock during his career, he never reached the commercial success of stars such as Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. This was frustrating for him especially as he was an accomplished musician, songwriter and performer. The audiences were changing and he found that he was moving further away from his musical roots in Jazz and Swing as he revised his style to suit the new demands.
He did hold a place in the hearts of each generation of music lovers throughout his lifetime. Combined with his own persistence to succeed, and also a supportive record label later in his career, he achieved a far reaching popularity in the 1980s and 1990s. This brought him a great deal of pleasure as he performed the music that he had always loved to a very appreciative Jazz audience around the world.
He wrote over 250 songs many of which are classics that were performed by the headliners across the decades. And this is the legacy that he left behind for performers such as myself, who have such awe for his talent and his music. As a performer he gave even the classics a new sound and respect that delighted his audiences
Here he is performing one of those classics of the day written by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Johnny Mercer courtesy of Mel Torme — That Old Black Magic Mel Tormé – Topic
Mel’s private life was often turbulent and certainly well publicized. He ‘fascinated’ many rich, talented and famous women including Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. He was married four times and was father to five children and two step-children, several of whom keep the name Tormé well known in the music and film industry.
In 1988 Mel Tormé wrote his autobiography titled It Wasn’t All Velvet. The title was a nod to his nickname, “The Velvet Fog”, given to him by a DJ in the 1940s to describe his husky and wide-ranging voice. For those of you who have enjoyed his music across the decades you will find the book and his others on Amazon and find it a fascinating read.
Mel acted in over a dozen feature films and on radio and television as well as hosting popular music shows on both. He was an excellent musician in great demand as a drummer touring with the Big Bands of the 40s. A songwriter responsible for some of the all-time classics of Jazz and popular music including that festive and much recorded The Christmas Song. He was also an accomplished writer of television dramas, articles in upscale publications such as the The New York Times and five books of fiction, biography and music criticism. A man of many parts and over the following weeks I shall be sharing just some of those talents with you.
Mel covered some of the well-known Jazz songs of the 1930s including this classic Harlem Nocturne. Words & Music by Earle Hagen & Sid Robin, 1939. Mel recorded his version in 1963 and here is my own tribute to him with guitarist Gabriel Anfosso live at the Jazz Comedy Club in Nice.
Next time I will be looking at the early music and film career of Mel Torme and hope you will join us again – William
William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.
His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.
While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.
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