Remembering The Late Great Mel Tormé

Mel Tormé was a composer, arranger, and drummer who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of American music.

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Mel Torme - Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Considered by his peers to be a “singer’s singer,” Mel Tormé was an extraordinary vocal technician with unmatched abilities as an improvisational vocalist who sang and scatted his way through the Great American Songbook. He was also a composer, arranger, and drummer who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of American music.

Melvin Howard Tormé was born in Chicago in 1925 and began singing professionally at the age of four, and began appearing on radio from 1934 to 1941, by which time he had already begun to write songs. His first to find success was “Lament To Love” which was recorded by Harry James in 1940. The most famous among the 300? An iconic number called “The Christmas Song.” Two years later, Mel joined the Chico Marx Band before appearing in Frank Sinatra’s first major film Higher and Higher in 1943.

Mel became the arranger and lead singer for the Mel-Tones in 1943 and the group went on to have hits for Decca Records. In 1947 he went solo and, two years later, Capitol Records signed him. His first recording for the label, “Careless Hands,” made No.1. There were a number of others during the next year including a duet with Peggy Lee. He composed “California Suite” in 1949 that came out in an old-style 78-rpm album and it helped pioneer cool jazz.

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With little chart success after 1950, Mel signed with Bethlehem Records in 1955, deciding to immerse himself completely in jazz. In 1958 he made his first record for Verve, along with Marty Paich, who had been working with Tormé for a number of years. Tormé was recorded in Los Angeles in June, and it is a masterpiece.

The following year he recorded Ole Tormé with Billy May and another with Marty Paich and The Meltones called Back In Town that featured saxophonist Art Pepper. In 1960, Tormé released one of his best albums, Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley. A couple more albums followed, but then his Verve career was over. Shortly after he had an American hit single with “Comin’ Home Baby,” Tormé found he was completely out of fashion for the best part of 20 years.

It was only as the 1970s ended that he got the recognition he so richly deserved. In the early 80s, he teamed up with George Shearing on a number of highly acclaimed albums. According to the pianist, “It is impossible to imagine a more compatible musical partner.” A stroke in 1996 ended his career, and he passed away three years later on June 5, 1999.

Listen to the best of Mel Tormé on Apple Music and Spotify.



  1. John Leslie Powell

    September 13, 2016 at 11:17 am

    First became aware of Mel Torme in the early 1960’s when someone gave me an LP’ Mel Torme sings Fred Astaire’ with the backing of Marty Paich. It was simply great. In the 1980’s I saw himw live on stage in Cardiff with George Shearing, another great artist. Thankfully we have so much of his work recorded for posterity.

  2. Beryl Beattie

    September 13, 2016 at 11:52 am

    Had the great pleasure of meeting Mel Torme when he appeared at the Glasgow Empire and what a charming, unassuming gentleman he was. In later years managed to order “Cailfornia Suite” which is a masterpiece. And my all time favourite is “Saving my love for you”.Plus his beguine version of ” I’ve got you under my skin” is simply the best. Rest in peace, Mel Torme. You will never be forgotten.xx

  3. Amy

    September 13, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Mel broke the mold. I had the great pleasure of seeing him perform live eight times. The best was sitting so close to him at Michael’s Pub in NY that he reached out and shook our hands after the set. Bluesette will always be my favorite. My boyfriend played it for me when we first started dating. I think that’s why he’s been my husband for 30+ years! Thanks for the music, Mel.

  4. Paul Maxwell

    September 13, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    I met Mel through the world of collecting Colt Single Adtion Army revolvers…over the years became very good friends for which I’ll always treasure. He was a genius, with an absolutely amazing memory. It’s been stated he remembered in excess of 1,700 songs. Not bad for a 70 year old. The stroke that took his thunder was devastating. Without a doubt the best recording he made was ‘The London Sessions’ with Chris Gunning…Absolute perfection that made him very proud during a very difficult time in his life. We’re all beneficiaries of his talents.

  5. Isabel maturana O.

    September 13, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    No hay traduccion

  6. Tom

    June 5, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    Just watched an old episode of “The Virginian “ where he played a mysterious guy who was mistaken for a gunfighter. He wrote the episode, too. Good surprise ending. Impressed with this acting and writing….and I guess with his singing!

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