Steve March Tormé
The American singer-songwriter son of Mel Tormé sings his own songs and those of his father, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harry Warren & Al Dubin, Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer, Eric Maschwitz, Manning Sherwin & Jack Strachey, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields, Sigmund Romberg & Oscar Hammerstein II, Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn, Gilbert Bécaud & Carl Sigman, Hoagy Carmichael & Mitchell Parish, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Ray Henderson & Mort Dixon, Charles Chaplin, Mel Tormé, Steve March Tormé and Steve Rawlins
Steve March Tormé – Singer
Liane Carroll – Guest Singer
Steve Rawlins – Musical director & piano
Pete Billington – Bass
Elliott Henshaw – Drums
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 23 April, 2009
Venue: Pizza Express Jazz Club, 10 Dean Street, Soho, London W1
Mel Tormé (1925-99) was a jazz singer and musician, a composer and arranger, a songwriter, a bugler and a drummer, an actor on radio, a television star, and a movie actor and author. He was known mainly for his singing. He had an unusual voice that was soft yet powerful, a versatile and wide-ranging high-tenor voice, light and smooth and always warm and mellifluous. Because of his unique vocal sound he was dubbed “the velvet fog”, and listening to Mel was like being bathed in chocolate and honey.
He began writing songs at age thirteen. Three years later one of his numbers became a hit for the Harry James Orchestra. After some film, television and radio appearances, in 1947 he formed a vocal quintet and also went solo the same year and gradually acquired recording contracts, performing with various bands and making appearances on television, including with Judy Garland. He was not enamoured of rock ’n’ roll and later welcomed the return to cool jazz. Working with George Shearing at Carnegie Hall was a particular pleasure and in the 1970s he became more and more in demand. He wrote over 250 songs of which ‘The Christmas Song’ was the most successful. He recorded around forty albums and had some hits including ‘Blue Moon’. He married four times, had five children and left his talent as a legacy.
Steve March Tormé, one of Mel’s sons, has followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a singer and songwriter of no mean ability. His parents divorced when he was less than three years old. His mother re-married so Steve did not know his father well for many years. When the family moved from New York to Beverly Hills, he met the likes of Desi Arnaz Jr, Dean Martin Jr, Carrie Fisher and Liza Minnelli at school. All the while he had an abiding interest in music and he wrote his first song at age 13 for Lucille Ball’s television show. When his stepfather died, Steve renewed his relationship with Mel and found they had much in common, not least their shared love of music. He began to record solo, wrote his own songs and his first solo album includes a duet with his father on Nat King Cole’s ‘Straighten up and fly right’, which you can also hear on Steve’s newest album called “So far”.
At the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Steve performs tracks from the album including some of his own compositions mixed in with classic standards from the Great American Songbook. He opens with Irving Berlin’s ‘Blue skies’ and then goes into his father’s own arrangement of Cole Porter’s ‘Just one of those things’ which incorporates a great drum solo for Elliott Henshaw. Working his way through the American repertoire of Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s ‘I only have eyes for you’, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s ‘This time the dream’s on me’, Rodgers & Hart’s ‘Mountain Greenery’, famously recorded by his father, and Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Stardust’, you can tell that Steve is his father’s son. There is something in the voice that connects the two, with Steve having slightly the same timbre in his voice that made his father’s vocalising so recognisable. In some excellent arrangements he beautifully recreates the sounds of a bygone era.
More classic titles come in such songs as ‘This can’t be love’ by Rodgers & Hart and the Eric Maschwitz/Manning Sherwin/Jack Strachey opus, ‘A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square’, each given a sympathetic reading in perfect arrangements and finely played by the band under Steve Rawlins’s direction. They do an up-tempo medley of Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’s ‘The way you look tonight’ coupled with Sigmund Romberg’s ‘Lover come back to me’, both in great rushing, rip-roaring versions that knock you out of your seat and that would have ‘Siggy’ turning in his grave, not to mention Jeanette MacDonald.
Steve’s first guest on his three-night Soho stint was Liane Carroll who gave new life to the Styne and Cahn standard ‘Time after time’ and Gilbert Bécaud’s ‘What now my love?’ She also returned for a duet with Steve, mixing up and singing scat to ‘Bye bye blackbird’ and ‘I get a kick out if you’ – all good, raunchy stuff in Sarah Vaughan style, and Liane is a great piano-player too. Steve also brings us his own songs, written with Rawlins, including the plangent ‘Almost the blues’. There are seven of his own songs on the new album and they are in good company with the likes of ‘Route 66’, ‘I got it bad and that ain’t good’, ‘September song’, ‘I only have eyes for you’, ‘Stardust’ and ‘Every time we say goodbye’.
After ‘Blue moon’ – he couldn’t leave that one out – and ‘I will’ from “The White Album” by his favourite songwriters, Lennon & McCartney, Steve does an all-stops-pulled-out version of ‘Lulu’s back in town’, and then calms down again for ‘The folks who live on the hill’, the poignant Kern/ Hammerstein song that Steve does more in the way of Sarah Vaughan than Peggy Lee. He closes with his own ‘Swingin’ at the Blue Moon Bar & Grille’ which looks like becoming a classic, and for an encore gives us Chaplin’s ‘Smile’, completing two glorious hours of brilliant song styling. Helped by the exceptional Steve Rawlins on piano, Elliott Henshaw on drums and Pete Billington on bass, Tormé junior proves that talent is a great inheritance. Here we have a really talented chip off a very substantial block.