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.
Part four of the series on the life and music of Mel Tormé and it is becoming clear that this talented musician, songwriter and performer, struggles to find his niche in the ever changing music industry. As mentioned in the first part of the series, Mel felt that he had been born just a decade too late to really take full advantage of the Jazz and Big Band Era, which produced the music that he loved to both write and perform. If the 50s had produced a shift in the taste in the fans for popular music, the 60s were going to be even more challenging for an artist such as Mel. It was a time of compromise, recording singles and albums to fit in with the leading label’s demands for popular music, to support his live performances of the music he really loved.
We move into the 60s with Mel Tormé struggling to find a record label who will allow him to release the music that is his passion… Jazz. He is now with Atlantic Records who very clearly want him to produce pop music, and eventually a compromise was made with another live album, Mel Tormé at the Red Hill in March of 1962. However he bowed to pressure from the management and released the more current number ‘Comin’ Home Baby’ in the September.
The song was written by the jazz lyricist Bob Dorough and bass player Ben Tucker. The song got Mel into the top 40 in both the US and UK and also earned him his first two Grammy nominations for Best Solo Performance, Male and Best Rhythm & Blues Recording. Whilst a terrific achievement for any artist Mel still felt disappointed that he was not being recognised as a jazz performer. To capitalise on this nomination, Atlantic rushed out the LP of the same name but it did not enter the charts.
What was a little bit more heartening for Mel was the comment made by jazz and gospel singer Ethel Waters to say that “Tormé is the only white man who sings with the soul of a black man.”
In 1963 Mel began a collaboration with The Judy Garland Show as musical director working closely on set with Judy and writing songs and musical arrangements combined with the occasional guest appearance. The show itself was in trouble from the beginning and Judy Garland’s unpredictability due to her personal issues resulted in a roller-coaster ride of triumphs and disasters in the few months that the show aired.
The personal relationship between Mel and Judy was not a harmonious one and he was fired shortly before the series itself was cancelled. Mel wrote a book after Judy Garland’s death “The Other Side of the Rainbow with Judy Garland on the Dawn Patrol”. It was clearly an unhappy time for the aging actress and singer as her star faded and Mel related the behind-the-scenes dramas that he witnessed. Whilst not popular with Judy’s legions of fans and family, after a rewrite of the introduction to the book to mollify their criticisms, Mel paid tribute to the fact that Judy could still pull out all the stops when performing.
Free to return to live performing from late 1964, Mel signed to Columbia Records and as well as some singles he cut the album That’s All. But, as at Atlantic Records, he was being pressurised to produce more contemporary/pop/rock songs. In 1966 his Album Right Now was released and included some of his recent hits such as ‘Homeward Bound’, and ‘Red Rubber Ball’. Mel made the Easy Listening chart in the summer of 1967 with ‘Lovers Roulette’ but by the end of the year he was off the label. Here is Red Rubber Ball written by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley
Mel had been appearing in films over the last few years, including playing himself in The Patsy and this was followed by A Man Called Adam. He also began to be seen more on the small screen as well as writing episodes and guesting in popular series such as Run for Your Life and The Virginian.
Mel signed with Liberty Records in early 1968 and on the wave of public enthusiasm for the film Bonnie and Clyde that had been released in 1967, he wrote the original title track ‘A Day in the Life of Bonnie and Clyde’. With the exception of this track, the album mostly consists of covers of popular songs of the late 1920s and early 1930s, around the period when the real-life Bonnie and Clyde were committing their bank robberies.
By 1969 Mel was back with Capitol Records and cut two more albums, ‘A Time for Us’ and ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’. ‘A Time for Us’ was the love theme from Romeo & Juliet that had been an instrumental arranged by Henry Mancini and it was to become one of the most romantic ballads of the late 1960s. Here is the title track from Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head. Mel Tormé – Topic
Mel was now entering the 1970s and he would be out of the music charts for some time although he would still be in the public eye with his work in television and film and with his live performances.
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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