Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Songbook: A Nightingale Sang . . .

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square is definitely one of my two or three favorite lovesongs ever. Furthermore, I feel it's long overdo that I should feature the great Mel Torme in this Friday series. Listen to his enunciation, his clarity, the way he plays with the words vocally but always to enhance and elucidate the feeling of the lyric.

2 comments: said...

What did they call him? The Velvet Fog. Christened such by a DJ at the Copacabana in the late '40's, he detested the nickname. He self-deprecatingly referred to it as "this Velvet Frog voice".
Mel Tormé first sang professionally at age 4. A child prodigy, he acted in the network radio serials The Romance of Helen Trent and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy from 8 to 16 years of age. He wrote his first song at 13, and three years later, his first published song, "Lament to Love," became a hit recording for Harry James. His appearance in the 1947 film musical Good News made him a teen idol for a few years!
Gospel singer Ethel Waters said "Tormé is the only white man who sings with the soul of a black man." According to Will Friedwald, author of Jazz Singing, "Tormé works with the most beautiful voice a man is allowed to have, and he combines it with a flawless sense of pitch… As an improviser he shames all but two or three other scat singers and quite a few horn players as well. ”
Mel Tormé, however, was not just another pretty voice: he wrote five books, wrote more than 250 songs, appeared in at least 23 movies and 17 t.v.shows, in addition to several guest appearances on NBC's ensemble comedy, Night Court. He also played the ukulele, piano, and drums.
If it weren't for Judge Harry Stone's obsession with Tormé (Night Court '84-'92), I'd have left Mel in the memory vacuum of my parents' lives beyond marriage and parenthood, which I'd never explored); what a shame I hadn't delved into all this back when I could have listened to them talk about it. How happily surprised they'd be to see that at least half my CD collection is jazz, big band, rat pack, etc. Always gives me a little swingin' cheery air of productivity when I have it playing.
During John Colianni's senior year of high school, Carlton Drinkard, former accompanist to the one and only "Lady Day" Billie Holiday (aka "Piano Man") assembled John's trio, and coached him in creating new arrangements and performing before live audiences.
At 17, John had already been playing jazz professionally in Washington D.C. and area jazz clubs for some years. He'd been recruited`by Ella Fitzgerald's bassist for the revue Jazz Stars of The Future, as well as by Director George Ross to play regularly with the University of Maryland Jazz Ensemble (though still in tenth grade). Following a three year world tour as Lionel Hampton's pianist, he won a cash prize in the first annual Thelonius Monk Piano Competition in 1987, then played a number of gigs. A stint with the band of movie director/clarinetist Woody Allen (?!) at Michael's Pub in New York, led Tormé (who was appearing at the same club) and Colianni (who was 37 years Tormé's junior) to partner throughout the early 90's, touring, and recording six albums. Although Les Paul had not used a pianist in his combo since the 1950s, he tapped John to join the Les Paul quintet. He's featured weekly at the Iridium (NYC) with the Les Paul Trio, carrying on Les' long-time Monday night gig.
Thanks, Bob, for the opportunity to dig around in the stacks and get to know these amazing guys a little better. Your musings and sharings make the world a more thoughtful, colorful place. :)

Bob said...

Wow, and thanks Nan for the most educational comment ever left at my blog! Very interesting stuff.