MEL TORMEAs a recording artist, two-time Grammy award winner Mel Torme has few peers. Once known in recording circles as “The Velvet Fog,” because of his smooth and caressing crooning style, his recording career has spanned over half a century, commencing in the mid-40s with his group, The Mel- Tones. He is currently represented with a much-in-demand new compendium of 15 years of balladry, under the title, “My Night to Dream,” on Concord Jazz Records.
Born September 13, 1925, Mel Torme waited only four years before making his first public appearance, a singing performance of the Walter Donaldson evergreen, “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” at the famed Blackhawk Restaurant in downtown Chicago. At the same event, Mel’s lifelong fascination with drums took shape, culminating in later years with his frequent performances on the drumstand in his concerts. At the age of nine, Torme became a radio actor, and at 15 he had his first song, “Lament to Love,” published. In the early *40s, a family friend, orchestra leader Ben Pollack, hooked the 16-year-old up with the band of the well-known comedian, Chico Marx, as singer, vocal arranger and drummer. When the band broke up in 1943, Torme again shifted gears into movie acting and song-writing, composing with his co-writer and friend, Bob Wells, what was to become one of the truly immortal songs of that or any age, “The Christmas Song,” recorded into enduring fame in 1946 by Nat King Cole.
During the war, Torme located a unique vocal group from Los Angeles City College, known as The Schoolkids, which he proceeded to transform into the famed Mel-Tones, for whom he worked as lead singer and arranger. One of their major hit songs, creating a lasting memory of fine ensemble singing, was the recording of the wonderful Cole Porter tune, “What Is This Thing Called Love.”
The Mel-Tones made a farewell appearance in 1946 and Torme immediately launched his solo career, commencing with several new 78 RPM records for the Musicraft label, including, appropriately enough, a reprise of “You’re Driving Me Crazy.” In the years to come, Torme continued to evolve and mature as a singer, recording for a number of labels including Capitol, Coral, Bethlehem, British Decca, Philips, Verve, Atlantic and Columbia.
The singer became an icon of jazz aficionados, with his powerful scat style, reminiscent of the great Ella Fitzgerald. He also drew many accolades from the stars, including Bing Crosby’s description, “The best musical entertainer I’ve ever seen.”
During the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, while maintaining his immense popularity as a concert and recording artist both as singer and drummer, Torme never lost his childhood touch for acting. He won an Emmy nomination for best supporting actor in an earlier Playhouse 90 program, “The Comedian,” and hosted and performed in the later 1971 series, “It Was a Very Good Year.” Also on television he appeared on the series, “Night Court.” He has also been seen on “The Tonight Show,” “Seinfeld,” “Late Show with David Letterman” and on MTV.
Mel Torme is also an accomplished writer, having penned what has been called an “emotionally gripping” autobiography, “It Wasn’t All Velvet;” a novel, “Wynner” and a biography of an old friend and fellow drummer, Buddy Rich, titled “Traps, The Drum Wonder.”
In the few moments of spare time in his busy life, Torme has also managed to become a licensed aircraft pilot and a collector of antique guns, model electric trains, records, books and memorabilia from his own childhood.
A multi-talented man is Torme, who is remembered musically for many achievements, including his greatest gift to America’s holiday season, “The Christmas Song.”
Prolific! That’s the word for Robert Wells, whose personal job description of “producer, writer, lyricist” hardly tells the story. His output over the course of 50 years, in terms of songwriting, television producing and composing for motion pictures, is downright staggering. One of his most memorable contributions to the culture, at a very early time in his career in 1945, is the lyric for “The Christmas Song,” with his friend and co-writer Mel Torme.
But that, indeed, was only the beginning of a lifetime of artistic achievement. He has written and produced more than 200 hours of award-winning network television programming. He also found time to write a memorable catalog of published songs, many with familiar melodies, and many of which became entries on the Hit Parade.
Born in October 1922, in Raymond, Washington, Wells attended The University of Southern California in Los Angeles, majoring in speech and drama before serving in the Army Air Force during WWII.
Beginning his career as a script and lyric writer, Wells, with writing partner Mel Torme, had already teamed on “The Christmas Song,” whose success set off a buzz of excitement for new song material being turned out under a contract with -the Burke and Van Heusen music publishing firm. One of the most important of these was “County Fair,” which appeared in the motion picture “So Dear to My Heart,” winning an Oscar nomination in the process. Robert Wells has actually produced more than 400 published songs. In 1946, he became a member of ASCAP, the performing rights organization, and has never looked back.
Of equal importance in Wells’ productivity were the many major television series and special events for which he acted both as writer and producer. He was producer and head writer for 107 hours of “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show,” and he won an Emmy for each year he was with the program. He acted as packager, producer and writer for “Gene Kelly’s New York, New York” (with Woody Alien, Gower Champion and Tommy Steele). Among others in the long list for which he performed essentially the same funcons, were “Ann Margret and the Men in Her Life;” “Shirley MacLaine, If They Could See Me Now;” “Julie, My Favorite Things,” with Julie Andrews and Peter Sellers; “Here’s Peggy,” with Peggy Fleming; “The Gene Kelly Special;” “The Man in the Moon,” with Andy Williams; “Victor Borge’s Accent on Music;” “Jane Powell, Young at Heart;” “Carl Sandburg’s Illinois,” with Carl Sandburg as host; and “Three for Tonight,” a television adaptation of his Broadway hit with Harry Belafonte and Marge and Gower Champion.
Wells’ song output also abounds with familiar themes and melodies. In addition to “The Christmas Song,” his credits include Oscar nominees “It’s Easy to Say” (the theme from the movie, “10”); “From Here to Eternity;” “Born to Be Blue;” “The Shadows of Paris;” “Magic Town” (the title song from the Jimmy Stewart film); “Here’s to the Losers;” “Reenlistment Blues” (from the film “From Here to Eternity”); “Wine, Women and Song” and “When Joanna Loved Me.” These are a very few. There are many more.
Wells’ writing skills were also freely applied to the unique art of nightclub material. He has written and produced club presentations for Shirley MacLaine, Dinah Shore, Kay Thompson, Marge and Gower Champion, Harry Belafonte, Ann Margret, Peggy Lee, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Leslie Uggams, Barbara Eden and his own late wife, Lisa Kirk, again, among others.
Robert Wells also received both the Peabody Award and the Sylvania Award, in 1957, and numbers six Emmy Awards in his collection, four for the “Dinah Shore Chevy Show” and two for “Shirley MacLaine, If They Could See Me Now.”