Born: September 13, 1925 Died: June 5, 1999
Mel Tormé was a genuine Renaissance man -- one of the top jazz singers of the last third of the century but also a superb writer, a good arranger, a more-than-competent drummer, a songwriter with a number of standards to his credit, a versatile actor, and a most engaging raconteur. Known in his youth as the "Velvet Fog" for his high, murky, sustained vocals, Tormé gradually developed into a first-class jazz baritone with great scatting ability, superb control, and a sophisticated way with ballads. Indeed, his voice actually grew stronger and more flexible in his later years, shedding old mannerisms and developing an ever-more-powerful sense of swing. Though Tormé notes that it took him an agonizingly long time to write them, his arrangements for orchestra and big band are sonorous and intelligently conceived. Furthermore, Tormé was probably as fine a writer as he was a singer; his autobiography, It Wasn't All Velvet; his memoir of Judy Garland, The Other Side of the Rainbow; and his biography of his friend Buddy Rich, Traps, the Drum Wonder, are compulsively readable, chatty, and full of insight. At 19, he also assured himself of immortality by co-writing "The Christmas Song," which in the wake of Nat "King" Cole's 1946 hit record has become an imperishable holiday standard. Amidst several parallel careers in show business and literature, Torme still continued to refine his vocal abilities through the decades.