Steve March-Tormé pays tribute to father Mel Tormé

Susan Whitall
Detroit News Music Writer
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Singer Steve March-Tormé stresses that his singing style is different from his father, the famed “Velvet Fog” — Mel Tormé.

But if you listen to the two singing “Lulu’s Back in Town” in a youtube video from the ’90s, look away and you can’t always tell if it’s dad or son singing. “No question, if I wanted to sing like him I could do it, and people would say ‘Holy Christ, he sounds like his father,’ ” Tormé says. “First of all the genes, second of all because I’m a fairly good vocal mimic.”

His parents divorced when Tormé, 61, was only 2½, so he didn’t grow up in the same house with his famous dad, or his style might be too close to his father’s, he feels.

Tormé pays tribute to his father in his set at the Detroit Jazz Festival at 4:30 p.m. Monday. It’s a program he’s been doing for a while that features special Marty Paich arrangements for the album “Mel Tormé With the Marty Paich Dektette.”

The jazz festival gig came about when Tormé, who lives in Wisconsin, where he has a daily radio show, had a singing engagement in Monroe, Mich. The saxophonist on the gig happened to be Chris Collins, artistic director of the Detroit Jazz Festival. “He was really nice to me and said, ‘Hey, you can sing!’ ”

Collins was enthusastic about Tormé doing the Paich-arranged Dektette material at the festival, which calls for a small, 10-piece band. All but the music director/pianist will be Detroit players that Collins will provide.

“It’s kind of an homage to Dad, but very much about these Marty Paich arrangements,” Tormé says. “This is not big band stuff. These are tricky arrangements. These were written for the bebop, cool jazz genre, so you need good players.”

He wasn’t sold on it, at first. As far as a medley of “Trolley Song” and “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “I said, ‘I don’t do these kind of songs.’ But then I listened to it and said to myself, ‘Steve, shut up.’ Paich took these standards and did great arrangements.”

Did father Mel ever offer any singing advice? “Years and years ago he said, as politely as he could, ‘Don’t believe what you’re reading in these articles that you’re the second coming; you’ve got a long way to go.’ ”

There’s more. “ ‘I’m going to give you some advice. Develop your lower range,’ Dad told me. With my generation, we don’t sing that low, we don’t sing like Burl Ives. But years later, I realize what he was talking about. There is a really lovely timbre that you can get if you can sing those low notes, a very sexy timbre.”

Tormé Sings Tormé featuring: Steve March-Tormé and the Dektette arrangements of Marty Paich. 4:30-5:45 p.m. Monday, Absopure Pyramid Stage.

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