PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
February 6, 2007

The Torme Touch

by Jim Newsom

Steve March Torme was in a Holiday Inn in Monroe, Louisiana, on the first leg of a two-month cross-country bus tour.

“Just like the old days,” he said with typical exuberance when he called last month. “You know, in the old days you’d see all these movies of guys on trains or on the bus, and one guy pulls out a trumpet, another guy pulls out a guitar and they all start jamming together. Well, nowadays everybody sits there with their headphones and their laptops!”

He and his touring troupe will take off their headphones and close up their laptops long enough to present Torme Sings Torme next Tuesday night at the Ferguson Center. It’s a knockout, a tribute to Steve’s late father, Mel Torme, that expands on his superb Jazz on Granby concert last year where he performed in a stripped down, piano trio setting. This time around, he has a ten-piece band along to play the Marty Paich arrangements that are considered Mel’s finest work.

“These are the originals that Marty Paich wrote for the Dektette,” he explained. “That’s how this show came about—there was a guy in Palm Desert who said if you want to play the McCallum Theatre and you want to get booked right now as Steve March Torme, no one’s gonna show up. But if you do a tribute show to your dad, I think we can fill the place.

“My first reaction was I don’t really want to do a tribute show to Dad because that’s never been a desire of mine; he doesn’t need me to do a tribute. But I just realized that it made sense for me, and I decided to do the show and do the best I could with it. And so what’s happening is people are telling me, ‘We were fans of your dad’s, now we’re fans of yours. Tell us where you’re going to be next.’

“The arrangements are why we do this. If I don’t do them, what am I going to do that’s supposed to be associated with Mel? It might as well be a lounge gig. The truth is, almost all of these songs were recorded by somebody else, but by using these particular arrangements that Marty did, it’s more in keeping with Dad. And the show’s got enough visual stuff, enough stories, that it really is about Mel Torme but I’m performing it. And I’m not doing Dad; as you know I don’t anyway. It’s just a good vehicle both ways: It keeps Dad’s name out there—it’s not like he’s going to do any more live shows—so at least there’s someone doing that material. And it’s a great platform for me. So it’s a win-win I think.”

Steve March Torme had avoided trading on his father’s name for most of his career. He actually grew up with his stepfather, actor and TV game show host Hal March, and didn’t strengthen his relationship with Mel until he was an adult himself. He chose the “March Torme” moniker to honor both of them. But even as he recorded a pop-rock album in the late ‘70s as “Steve March,” and was featured on that era’s Name That Tune revival, he downplayed the familial connection.

“It’s a fight,” he said, “because most of the people that are second generation aren’t very good. I’m not going to name names because it’s not fair of me to do so, but...I have to prove it every single night.”

And prove it he does. Fortunately, Steve has the goods. Though his is a different vocal timbre from that of his father (“he had a little bit more air in his voice and mine’s a deeper baritone”), you can hear a resemblance in some of his phrasing. And he is a very good singer in his own right, with plans for a “Bernstein to Beatles” symphony series of his personal favorites in the works.

He won an important industry award last August for the DVD of the show he’s bringing to the Ferguson:

“A company called AIX Records shot the entire concert at the McCallum. Then they shot it [again] at the Coleburn School of Music on six high-def cameras with no audience there so we would have the right ambient sound. The DVD is a combination of that, some footage from the live show, all kinds of stuff with Mel, some rehearsal stuff with him and [George] Shearing, some interviews with him and me, and lots of extra bonus stuff. There’s an award show that I wasn’t aware of called the EMX DVD Awards and we won Best Musical Dual Disc for 2006.”

Though he’s spent most of his life in Tinsel Town, Steve March Torme moved to his wife’s hometown in Wisconsin a year and a half ago.

“The main reason we moved here was because of the kids,” he said. “We have Angela’s mom and dad to help us. It’s a pretty good place for me to be because I can do this from anywhere. I like it there, and to be honest with you, the more I’m traveling through these little towns down here, I’m seeing how much more I like Wisconsin! We actually have it pretty good.”

copyright © 2007 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.


"Honoring the Father"
March 7, 2006
An earlier interview with Steve March Torme.