A Man and His Music – William Price King meets Mel Tormé – Part Two – 1940s


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 torme 16 years old ebay

Mel Tormé was born in 1925 in Chicago to hard working Russian Jewish immigrant parents whose surname was actually Torma.

The Blackhawk Restaurant

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.

album Mel-tones

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.

Blue Moon

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.

Additional sources
Album cover http://www.cdandlp.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mel_Torme
Photo – Ebay.

Link to Part One. https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/a-man-and-his-music-william-price-king-meets-mel-torme/

pricestudio

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.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/william-price-king/

LINKS
Links to website – http://www.williampriceking.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WilliamPriceKing
Twitter – @wpkofficial
Regular Venue – http://cave-wilson.com/
ITunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/william-price-king/id788678484

 

 

A Man and his Music – William Price King meets Mel Tormé


 Nyika with wakanda

They say that timing is everything. And this is probably very true for the next artist that William Price King is going to be talking about in the next few weeks in the Saturday morning music posts. I will hand over to William and the subject of his new series on iconic musicians, composers and singers of the last 100 years.

220px-Mel_Tormé_(1979)

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 (VintageMusic.es)

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.

It wasn't all velvet 

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.

http://www.amazon.com/Mel-Torm%C3%A9/e/B001HMPC1C

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 Saturday I will be looking at the early music and film career of Mel and sharing more of his performances.  I hope you will join me here.

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.

LINKS
Links to website – http://www.williampriceking.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WilliamPriceKing
Twitter – @wpkofficial
Regular Venue – http://cave-wilson.com/
ITunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/william-price-king/id788678484

Find out more about William and his music at these two links.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/william-price-king/
https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/the-sunday-show-with-guest-william-price-king-jazz-musician-composer-singer-and-songwriter-romance-is-in-the-air/

Additional sources
http://www.mtv.com/artists/mel-torme-00/biography/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mel_Torm%C3%A9
http://www.amazon.com/Mel-Torm%C3%A9/e/B001HMPC1C