Mel Tormé Day

September 13, 1925 – June 5, 1999

A tribute to the remarkable singer

Melvin Howard Tormé was born September 13, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois.

Tormé made his professional singing debut when he was just four, sitting in with the Coon-Sanders Orchestra in 1929.

Trained as a drummer, Tormé acted regularly on the radio during 1933-41.

He began writing songs when he was 13 and in 1941 his original “Lament To Love” was recorded by Harry James.

Tormé worked as a drummer, singer and arranger for the Chico Marx band (which was really headed by Ben Pollack) during 1942-43, and made his movie debut in 1943 when he was still 17, appearing in Higher and Higher.

In 1944 he formed Mel Tormé and his Mel-Tones, a vocal quartet that had some success recording with Artie Shaw including a classic version of “What Is This Thing Called Love.”

After serving in the Army, he began his solo singing career, got the nickname of “The Velvet Fog” (a title that he never liked), composed “The Christmas Song” (which Nat King Cole turned into a standard) and recorded for the Decca, Musicraft and Capitol labels.

Tormé’s career as a jazz singer really got going during 1955-57 when he recorded a series of memorable albums with the Marty Paich Dek-Tette.

A household name as a singer and occasional actor (he was also a notable arranger, continued to compose, wrote five books, and enjoyed playing drums), Tormé had a hit in the early 1960s with his recording of “Comin’ Home Baby” but he went through some lean times (particularly on record) during the second half of the decade, often being pressured to record inferior pop tunes.

After signing with the Concord label in 1983, Mel Tormé not only had an artistic comeback but he seemed to be getting better with age, scat-singing on Ella Fitzgerald’s level, holding gorgeous and endless long notes on ballads, and appearing at many prestigious festivals and concert halls, sometimes teaming up with George Shearing.

Mel Tormé prospered until a major stroke in 1999 ended his career, three years before his death at age 73.

Tormé performs with the always-amazing drummer Buddy Rich on the Merv Griffin Show in 1979, showing off his scatting skills and flawless voice.

-Scott Yanow