Mel Tormé: Four Classic Albums

Double CD covers the Velvet Fog's range, from Astaire devotee to Beach-Boy influencer, from late-night romantic to West Coast celebrant

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The collaboration between Marty Paich and the uniquely gifted Mel Tormé represents a high-water mark in the evolution of vocalist with jazz ensemble. They recorded some 10 albums together, creating a relationship that was just as significant as Frank Sinatra’s with Nelson Riddle.

Sings Fred Astaire was clearly a labour of love and these classic titles are perfect vehicles for Tormé’s relaxed approach. He benefits too from Paich’s delicate ensemble textures, reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan’s short-lived tentette. Along the way there are elegant solo contributions from Herb Geller (A Fine Romance), Jack Montrose (Cheek To Cheek) and Don Fagerquist (Top Hat, White Tie & Tails). After performing a medley of 20 titles associated with Astaire at Marty’s in 1982 Tormé announced to an enthusiastic audience that he was “Fred’s greatest fan” (Jazz Door CD12103). So there can be no surprise he selected Astaire as one of his “heroes” in his autobiography It Wasn’t All Velvet.

Back In Town reunites his vocal group the Mel-Tones which had disbanded in 1948. Somewhat forgotten today, they were an acknowledged influence on the Four Freshmen and the Beach Boys. Makin’ Whoopee incorporates Mulligan’s Ontet with Mel’s lyrics before Art Pepper moves centre stage. What Is This Thing Called Love recreates the celebrated arrangement that Artie Shaw recorded with the Mel-Tones in 1946. Mrs. Shaw (Ava Gardener) was reading a book in the studio at the time and Paich included a Hot House reference which was not there originally. I’ve Never Been In Love Before has its tail gently tweaked with a coda straight out of Basie’s April In Paris. Paich on organ briefly acknowledges Wild Bill Davis’s timeless chart. A Bunch Of The Blues is a tour-de-force featuring Keester Parade, TNT and Tiny’s Blues with notable solos from Jack Sheldon, Victor Feldman, Barney Kessel and Art Pepper.

It’s A Blue World was clearly aimed at achieving late-night radio air-time with Tormé’s voice gently cushioned by woodwinds and strings. California Suite is a brilliantly realised hymn to the West Coast by the Chicago-born singer. Not much jazz here but a job well done.

Discography
CD1: (1) [It’s A Blue World] I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good; Till The Clouds Roll By; Isn’t It Romantic; Polka Dots And Moonbeams; You Leave Me Breathless; I Found A Million Dollar Baby; Wonderful One; Stay As Sweet As You Are; (2) [Sings Fred Astaire] Nice Work If You Can Get It; Something’s Gotta Give; A Foggy Day; A Fine Romance; Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off; Top Hat, White Tie And Tails; The Way You Look Tonight; Cheek To Cheek; Let’s Face The Music And Dance; They All Laughed (78.09)
CD2: (3) [California Suite] The Territory; West Coast Is The Best Coast; La Jolie; Coney Island; Atlantic City Boardwalk; They Go To San Diego; San Fernando Valley; Got The Date On The Golden Gate; L.A.; Six O’Clock; Nothing To Do; Poor Little Extra Girl; West Coast Is The Best Coast (reprise) (4) [Back In Town] Makin’ Whoopee; Baubles, Bangles And Beads; What Is This Thing Called Love; I’ve Never Been In Love Before; Truckin’; A Bunch Of The Blues; It Happened In Monterey; I Hadn’t Anyone Till You; A Smooth One; Don’t Dream Of Anybody But Me; Some Like It Hot; Hit The Road To Dreamland (74.26)
Tormé (v) with:
(1) Frank Beach (t); Marty Paich (p); Al Hendrickson; Stan Pellegrini orchestra. NYC, 28, 30 August 1955.
(2) Pete Candoli, Don Fagerquist (t); Bob Enevoldsen (vtb); Vince De Rosa (frh); Albert Pollan (tu); Herb Geller (as); Jack Montrose (ts); Jack Dulong (bar); Marty Paich (p); Max Bennett (b); Alvin Stoller (d). Los Angeles, November 1956.
(3) Pete Candoli, Don Fagerquist (t); Bob Enevoldsen (vtb); Dave Pell (ts); Barney Kessel (elg); Max Bennett (b); Alvin Stoller, Mel Lewis (d). Hollywood, March 1957.
(4) The Mel-Tones (v); Jack Sheldon (t); Art Pepper (as, ts); Marty Paich (p, org); Victor Feldman (vib); Joe Mondragon (b); Mel Lewis (d). Los Angeles, April 1959.
Avid Jazz AMSC1428