Star vocalist, arranger, composer, drummer, pianist and film actor, Tormé was nothing if not highly talented and versatile. An on-stage vocalist at four, and actor in radio shows at nine, he auditioned (on drums) at the age of 15 in 1940 with his own composition, Lament To Love, to Harry James. (An impressed James successfully recorded it, with Dick Haymes.) His youthful career continued to develop at breakneck pace. By the end of this compilation of 61 of his earliest recordings, he was still only 22.
In 1944 he formed a boy/girl vocal backing group, emulating the popular Modernaires and Pied Pipers. “I patterned the group after a saxophone session”, he later explained, “with two altos” [the girls], “two tenors” [including Mel], “and a baritone”. They were billed as the Mel-Tones, and their tightly swinging, dynamically charged close-harmony backing was strikingly arranged by Tormé in instrumental swing-section style. At a peak on St. Louis Blues and On The Atchison, they also excel in Tormé’s original, That’s Where I Come In, with exuberant bop scatting, Dizzy style – an enjoyable contrast to the predominately romantic, sometimes quite twee, ballads. Stand-out moments on CD1 and CD2 include pairings with the young and very capable Eugenie Baird, with Bing Crosby and with the first-class orchestras of Sonny Burke and Artie Shaw (whose beautifully expressed clarinet passages are an added pleasure).
In late 1946 Mel disbanded the Mel-Tones to focus on a solo career. His repertoire now consisted mainly of popular laid-back ballads. His style – gently and intimately crooning, with unhurried timing and precision phrasing, his voice warmly expressive and very light in timbre – produced hit after hit. He was now nicknamed ” the Velvet Fog”, a sobriquet he came to resent, and his love of swinging big band jazz was becoming overlooked. (It Wasn’t All Velvet was the reproachful title of his 1988 autobiography. From the 50s he tired of commercial mush, and sought a more jazz-based context.)
The backing of the Page Cavanaugh trio on the 13 tracks which span CDs 2 and 3 sounds comparatively mundane and uninspired after the breezy Mel-Tones and stylish big bands. Hal Mooney’s very capable orchestra restores more colour and variety, though the repertoire is still mainly laid-back. Tormé gets to cut lose, at last, with obvious relish, in an upbeat arrangement of Night And Day, unleashing an exuberant flow of bop scatting.
This window on his earliest recordings reveals exceptional musical skill and maturity in a young artist who went on to rank with the top male vocalists in the post-war American entertainment world. Detailed notes and discographical details are supplied in the booklet.
CD1: (1) A Stranger In Town; You’ve Laughed At Me For The Last Time; (2) Am I Blue; (3) Day By Day; Prove It By The Things You Do; (4) St. Louis Blues;; On The Atchison; Topeke And Santa Fé; (5) There’s No One But You; Willow Road; That’s Where I Came In; (6) Got The Sun In The Morning; (5) Try A Little Tenderness; South America; Take It Away; It Happened In Monterey; Born To Be Blue; (6) What Is This Thing Called Love?; (7) Get Out Of Town; (6) Changing My Tune; (7) They Can’t Convince Me; (6) Guilty; And So To Bed (60.41)
CD2: (6) Don’t You Believe It Dear; (8) A Little Kiss Each Morning; Dream Awhile; There’s No Business Like Show Business; (7) I Believe; It’s The Same Old Dream; (9) It’s Dreamtime; You’re Driving Me Crazy; Who Cares What People Say?; I’m Yours; (10) How Long Has This Been Going On?; Kokomo; Indiana; Boulevard Of Memories; It’s Easy To Remember; (11) I Can’t Give You Anything But Love; Three Little Words; Love, You Funny Thing; I’ll Always Be In Love With You; Fine And Dandy; The Day You Came Along (57.14)
CD3: (11) And Mimi; My Baby Just Cares For Me; What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?; Ballerina; Magic Town; The Best Things In Life Are Free; If I Had A Girl Like You; (12) But Beautiful; A Cottage For sale; Until The Real Thing Comes Along; Gone With The Wind; Makin’ Whoopee; Do It Again; Night And Day; Little White Lies; A Foggy Day; County Fair; I Cover The Waterfront; When Is Sometime?; Love Is The Sweetest Thing (61.39)
(1) The Mel Tones. Les Baxter, Betty Beveridge, Ginny O’connor, Bernie Parke (v) with unknown p, g, b and d. LA, 5 October 1944.
(2) The Mel Tones. Eugenie Baird v). Unknown acc. LA, 27 April 1945.
(3) The Mel-Tones. Bing Crosby (v); Buddy Cole Nick Fatool (d); Dave Barbour (g); Phil Stephens (b). Hollywood, CA, 13 September 1945.
(4) The Mel-Tones; The John Scott Trotter Orch. LA, early 1946.
(5) The Mel-Tones; Sonny Burke and his Orch. Hollywood, CA. 19 March and 4 June 1946.
(6) The Mel-Tones; Artie Shaw and his Orch. LA, 30 April, 19 June, 16 August, 19 September and 17 October 1946.
(7) as (6) except omit Mel-Tones. LA, 25 June, 10 September and 9 November 1946.
(8) The Mel-Tones; Ray Linn and his Orch. Hollywood, CA, 18 October 1946.
(9) Sonny Burke and his Orch. Hollywood, CA, 29 November 1946.
(10) Walter Gross and his Orch. Hollywood, CA, 1947.
(11) The Page Cavanaugh Trio; Cavanaugh (p); Al Viola (g); Lloyd Pratt (b). Hollywood, CA, 1947.
(12) Hal Mooney and his Orch. Hollywood, CA, 14, 15, 16 November 1947.