What's More American Than Jazz and the name "Tormé"?
He’s the incredibly talented son of the Velvet Fog. His full-plate includes a new album, an upcoming tour, and a PBS special. He scats, croons, and romances sell-out crowds on both sides of the pond. He’s Jazz royalty of the highest caliber. And yet, James Tormé is one of the most humble, gracious, exciting, and passionate artists I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing.
All I kept thinking when James Tormé and I were chatting was how incredibly proud Jazz icon Mel Tormé and infamous actress Janette Scott must have been to share such a gifted child between them -- not just gifted in his music and vocal abilities but gifted in how clear he is on life, work, and the responsibility he holds to his parents, their contributions, and their reputations. James isn’t about resting on the laurels of his heritage but enhancing them in ways that fill his personal and professional longings while living up to the exceptional standards both his parents subscribed to in their own careers.
In my opinion, he’s “got that down”. Read his interview, below, to decide for yourself.
Share your personal mantra.
I have a few:
"If it’s for you, it won’t go by you."
"It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice." This was my father, Mel Tormé’s, mantra and it served him well. I’ve adopted it. It kept him (and me) from overstepping his foot print.
"You rest; you rust." I think this one is the reason the Tormé family never took a holiday. If my dad wasn’t working, his insecurity that all his followers would desert him would kick in.
"There are only two types of people - decent and indecent." I schlep around the world to represent the romance and decency in society.
"The best revenge, is revenge." It’s just a fact.
"If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail." Being a fourth generation show business professional, you can’t lean on your talent in the moment. You have to have talent and refine it.
Explain “Jazz” for all those who don't feel compelled to explore it or listen to it.
Jazz is the ultimate American art-form and one of the most precious gifts we ever gave to the world, although 'freedom' runs a close second. But jazz is actually freedom -- freedom of expression. In that way, Jazz can be applied to any piece of music. I can create a Jazz version of "Stairway To Heaven" (for example); all I need to do is open it up. You can have a Jazz spinoff of that song. I’m known for doing that.
For those who resist exploring Jazz, all I can say is those Jazz artists of yester-year (including my old man) are way cooler than any other artist on the scene today. I call my music Sophisti-pop. The most interesting musicians and voices today, arrive from a Jazz background.
You are the son of 3-time Grammy Award-Winning Jazz legend Mel Tormé. How does your style differ from your father's?
My dad’s main musical influences are responsible for the creation of the music between 1927-1955 (essentially the music of his childhood; he kept it close to him.) That served him really well because it made him legitimate.
My influences are all of the same influences plus the music of my own childhood, like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, James Taylor and on and on. I draw from a much wider trough than my dad. But Michael Jackson and my dad are my biggest influences. June Cristy, Carmen McCray, Chris Connor, Prince...huge parts of my style were influenced by those singers -- a wider group of influences.
What's your signature?
I’m known for bringing a ‘tasteful Jazz style’ descended from the greats and making current to today’s scene. I’m also known for 'Scat' singing, which comprises a short-list of able bodies.
When did you decide to follow in your father's footsteps? And did your decision to do so, please him or compel him to try to convince you out of it given the changing times in music?
It really wasn’t a decision at all. Just more about realizing ‘who and what' you are. I had a sense of destiny about a life in music almost certainly involving singing since around ten years-old. That is something that was built, in me independent from my father.
Both my parents absolutely tried to talk me out of choosing this life. My dad knew first hand how much being an entertainer can be likened to “banging your head up against a concrete wall”. The time on the road killed all three of my dad’s marriages (“Absence makes the heart go wander” according to my dad). But there is only so much you can do to run away from the essence of who you are just because people try to deter you for whatever the reasons. What a shame not to follow your passion.
What has been your most memorable performance so far?
I remember every performance. My shows are all precious to me. I’ve had some incredible honors and worked with some remarkable people, but all meant a great deal to me. I live in the moment.
Is becoming as legendary as your dad in Jazz important to you?
Yes. I’ve never shied away from the wonderful legacy my father created but I need to know that I am doing something to a comparable level to what my dad did. I don’t think I would be doing what I am doing if forced. Being a singer and performer is as natural to me as it was to my old man. I would be lying to you if I said otherwise. I have legacies on both sides of the Atlantic (my mother, the grandmother, my dad) to live up to. I’m not competing with them. I just want to make them all proud.
Do you plan to explore collaborations with other musical artists outside of the Jazz arena and if so, which artist would be at the top of your list?
I definitely do and I think it is healthy for artists to collaborate as much as possible. Recently, I had the privilege of collaborating with a number of amazing artists. Verdine White (bass player of "Earth, Wind & Fire"), James Rose (the founder of "Accent"). All of the groups like Pentatonix, Hi-Lo’s credit my dad and the Mel-Tones for this type of music.
Share a social cause or cause-based organization close to your heart.
The Salvation Army. They seriously help a ton of people across the world. My grandmother, Dame Thora Hird, supported them. I’m an honorary Colonel in that organization.
When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
As an ambassador for Jazz -- American music history, romance, and decency. Somebody who astutely used whatever gifts they were given to enrich his peers and society. Somebody who used their music as a tool for healing. Somebody who was able to advance and evolve what was already a wonderful musical legacy into the 21st century, keeping it vibrant and relevant. Somebody who honors those who came before him by standard-bearing for a lot of the musical values of Hollywood’s golden era. To be a bridge between old-school and new-school, each side partaking in the best of the other.
As he has been told many times that “he has his old man’s underpinnings but also his own way about him”, I can’t think of a better compliment or more accurate take on James Tormé or his kinda Jazz. I also don’t believe there could be a more profound way of sharing “love” - for a music, a family name, and for a world - than how James has chosen to do it. He’s a class-act, folks, and one of the newest reasons old sayings like “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” have stuck around. It doesn’t, not in the case of the Tormé family, it seems.
Many thanks to James Tormé and Tokyo Suites Entertainment for making this interview possible