Mel Torme for Christmas? He Left Us With Chestnuts Roasting on the Open Fire.
December 23, 2012
Thanks to a multi-talented multi-tasker, we enjoy chestnuts and open fires every December along with the judge from Night Court and many others – some of whom may not even know who Mel Torme was. He was the son of Russian Jews and hailed from the “Windy City”.
A child prodigy as a singer, Torme went on to also become a composer, arranger, drummer, actor, and author of five books.
He collaborated with Bob Wells to write the popular Christmas song that many of us refer to by it’s opening line, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Wells wrote the lyrics and Torme came up with the music in less than an hour (along with some of the lyrics, too). It was one of more than 250 songs to Torme’s credit.
Detractors called him the epitome of lounge singers. One of the survivors of the big band era who went on to a long term career, Torme eventually won two Grammys for “Best Male Jazz Vocalist” in 1982 and ’83. He died of a stroke in 1999.
I remember watching several episodes of Night Court with my son and being charmed by the stories of Torme and his contributions to music in general and jazz in particular. His willingness to take risks and flirt with self parody endeared him to several generations of fans.
A writer for spaceagepop.com said, “He recorded tunes such as ‘Homeward Bound,’ ‘Red Rubber Ball,’ and ‘Raindrops are Falling on My Head’ in the late 1960s that either leave you in awe of his range and flexibility or cringing at his attempt to bridge a generation gap. His rendition of Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’ is a highlight of Rhino’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Golden Throats’ compilation, but personally, I think his take on ‘Secret Agent Man’ is the epitome of ‘spy lounge.’”
One style of singing for which he was well known was “scat” singing and many feel that he ranks right up there with the “First Lady of Scat,” Ella Fitzgerald. What’s scat singing got to do with Christmas?
Mel can make the notes fly like reindeer! Here’s that simple phrase: Merry Christmas to you.