What a privilege to receive these warm messages responding to the post below recalling Mel Torme. Bud Kremer writes:
As a lifelong fan of Torme (and only a tad younger than him), let me thank you for your write up on his 80th Birthday. Folks rarely realize that of all his many talents, singing was the least. But it was his greatest love and so he worked at it like a demon.
He embraced a style very early, even back in the 40s with the Meltones. Having laid out his musical ground, he spent a lifetime clearing out the stones and stumps until, at the age of about 55, he began to feel the vocal control and the delilcate breathing that he had sought for all that time. I recall hearing him on a San Francisco radio station interview shortly before his death saying, “You know, I think my singing is, just now, the very best I’ve ever done.”
Dana Matthewson writes:
As a musician (sax player), I worked a big band gig with him in Buffalo, NY back in the 70’s — can’t remember the actual date. We were contracted musicians. He brought only his long-time drummer, Donny Osborne (not to be confused with D. Osmond!).
All the arrangements were by him EXCEPT for the (very old) chart of “The Christmas Song.” And they were tough charts to play. Add to Mel’s talents the fact that he could have been an A-#1 band leader — we were darn near perfect at the concert.
I went to his dressing room to talk to him afterwards, and to tell him that playing with him had been one of the high spots of my career so far. He was effusive about the band! “I didn’t hear any mistakes! You know that spot in the Gershwin Medley, in the ‘Concerto in F’ section after the brass does the [and he sang the passage] and then the saxes come in with [sang the passage]? Well, you guys nailed it. Last week they screwed it up behind me on The Tonight Show! You guys [poking me in the chest with his index finger] ARE GREAT!”
Speaking of the Gershwin “Concerto in F”: Mel was a good enough pianist to play the part of it he included in the medley perfectly — I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear him play the whole piece with no trouble. The man was a consummate musician!
One more story before I knock off. Sound men — the bane of REAL musicians’ existence. Most of them grew up listening to acid rock, and have no ears. Mel’s concert took place in Buffalo’s great Kleinhan’s Music Hall, one of the world’s GREAT concert halls. At the beginning of the rehearsal he took the mike and began what should have been a very short dialogue with the “sound man.” He spoke a few words on the mike, to test the sound mix. Then he said, “Hello — Sound Man — are you there?”
“I want you to take ALL the bass off. Leave the treble the way it is. Take ALL the bass off. It’s not what you usually do, but believe me — I know this dummy voice of mine. OK?”
“Now we’ll try it.” Sound man hadn’t done it.
“Let’s try again. Take ALL THE BASS OFF.”
“AM I GOING TO HAVE TO COME UP THERE AND DO IT MYSELF?”
Finally it was done as Mel demanded, and we proceeded with no further problems.
The music got better in Heaven when Mel died.