Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mel + Marty = Musical Magic [From The Archives]

This piece was originally published in 2010 but copyright issues blocked the accompanying video from being seen in many countries. For whatever reason/s, and with the continuing exception of Germany, which is served by a different distribution agreement, these restrictions have been lifted, so I thought I'd re-post the feature as the combination of Mel Torme's singing and Marty Paich's arranging have long been one of my favorite Jazz associations.

“The young Torme's voice was honey-smooth, light, limber, inef­fably romantic and boyish; and it's amazing how many of those qualities he kept, even into old age … Torme's rhythmic panache and tonal sweetness turn back the years.”
- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD.

“The one major singer who consistently sought to use the cool sound in his work …
was Mel Torme … [who was] inspired by the sound of the Miles Davis Nonet and the Gerry Mulligan Tentet, the two celebrated mini bands that had set off the cool reaction to bop’s heat. He and West Coast arranger Marty Paich put together a ten-piece unit patterned after both the Davis and Mulligan bands.

In a masterful series of sets like Mel Torme and The Marty Paich Dektette [Bethlehem] and Mel Torme Sings Shubert Alley [Verve], Torme and Paich brilliantly recast familiar show tunes into fresh, exciting new forms.”
- Will Friedwald in Bill Kirchner, ed., The Oxford Companion to Jazz 

“On the job, he [Marty Paich] became (in my estimation, of course) a U-Boat
Commander. On the job, the exact performance of his music was not just
desirable ... it was ordained. Quite often, Marty delivered a
passionate speech to whatever band was in front of him - having to do
with the importance of playing his music the only way possible - his
way. Which I'll add was unquestionably the right way. Usually as he
spoke, his voice would tighten and now and then a tremor could be
detected. It meant that much to him ... and I never encountered this
level of determination in anyone else I played for. Ever. And I
appreciated him all the more for it. Some of my colleagues, though,
didn't. Everybody considered him a gifted arranger, but some didn't
mind if they didn't get the call to work for him. I enjoyed every
minute of it ... even the speeches.”
-Trombonist, Milt Bernhart

__._,_.___© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

After revisiting the music of Marty Paich in the context of the arrangements he prepared for Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, his work with alto saxophonist Art Pepper on the latter’s Art Pepper + 11 album and the charts he wrote for his own big band – we’ve done video tributes to all three – the editorial staff at JazzProfiles suddenly remembered that it had made a grand omission.

What about Marty’s writing for vocalist Mel Torme!?

Mel and Marty began their collaboration in the mid-1950s on a series of recordings for Bethlehem Records – most notably, Mel Torme’: Lulu’s Back in Town – on which Marty used his trademark prowess for taking a relatively small band and making it sound like a much larger orchestra.

The Torme’-Paich association produced musical magic in the sense that Marty’s arrangements personified in the public mind all that was hip, slick and cool in Mel’s vocal stylings.

Paich’s writing had a strong compatibility with Torme’s singing style. He had an uncanny way of producing arrangements that gave flight to Torme’s vocal acrobatics while at the same time keeping them from getting out-of-hand.

The partnership continued in effect during the early 1960’s when Mel moved to Verve. Their best work together at this label was on the Mel Torme’ Swings Shubert Alley about which Richard Cook and Brian Morton had this to say:

“This is arguably Torme's greatest period on record, and it cap­tures the singer in full flight. His range had grown a shade tougher since his 1940s records, but the voice is also more flexible, his phrasing infinitely assured, and the essential lightness of timbre is used to suggest a unique kind of tenderness. Marty Paich's arrangements are beautifully polished and rich-toned, the French horns lending a distinctive color to ensembles which sound brassy without being metallic. There may be only a few spots for soloists but they're all made to count, in the West Coast manner of the day. It's loaded with note-perfect scores from Paich and a couple of pinnacles of sheer swing in 'Too Darn Hot' (a treatment Torme kept in his set to the end) and 'Just In Time', as well as a definitive 'A Sleepin' Bee'.”

You can hear the musical magic that the duo of Torme and Paich produce on the Whatever Lola Wants audio track to the following video tribute to Mel. Throughout, listen for how Mel brings the fictional Lola to life with his phrasing of the tune's lyrics. There's disdain and more than a touch of pity in his voice. It's like he's saying to the young man about to be ensnared in Lola's clutches - "You don't stand a chance."  The genius is in the details; Mel's not just singing the song, he's portraying it.

Be sure and also listen for:

[1] Marty’s use of a musical reference to Dizzy’s Manteca in the intro
[2] Art Pepper’s roaring alto solo at  minutes
[3] trombonist Frank Rosolino’s quote of Dizzy’s A Night in Tunisia at the beginning of his solo at 
[4] the subtle key change when Mel comes back in at  minutes with Marty’s use of a riff based on Bernie’s Tune in the background
[5] the one-man, three-note fanfare that Mel employs at 3:07 minutes to end the tune; not many vocalist could pull this off.

The following insert notes by to Mel Torme’ Swings Shubert Alley by Lawrence D. Stewart insert notes reveal the amount of thought, knowledge and sensitivity that went into the development of this recording [paragraphing modified].

“Geometry insists that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts; but when the proposition is Mel Torme plus Marty Paich, the result is far more than a combination of singular talents. Torme and Paich have made over half a dozen records together, always experi­menting in the balancing of this jazz equation. But the formula they have uncovered for this set is the most astonishing yet.

Torme does not conceive of himself as a soloist with a background accom­paniment. Instead, he treats his voice as one more instrument in the band and achieves his effects by balance, counter-rhythm and even harmonic dissonances, which ring against these instrumental changes. "Most singers want to finish singing and then have the band come in for a bar and a half—and then they're on again," observes Paich. "But Mel's always saying 'Let the band play — let the band play.' It’s quite unselfish from his standpoint and it doesn't overload the album. It makes for good listening." It does even more than that: It gives a totally new conception to some rather traditional music.

Shubert Alley is the home of stand­ards, and on this album we hear a dozen from as many shows of the past two decades. Broadway show orches­trations have a certain sameness which is effective in the theatre — where attention is directed toward the action on stage — but sometimes makes rather routine listening at home. (In­deed, does anyone ever hear an Origi­nal Cast album and not have his thoughts drawn to the footlights rather than to the song?) The first problem in choosing the numbers for this set was to pick tunes which had a jazz potential. Paich remarked, "When we picked the tunes we chose those geared not only to serve Mel as vocalist but to serve instrumentally as well."

"Too Close for Comfort" (Mr. Won­derful, 1956; music and lyrics by Jerry Bock, Larry Holofcener and George Weiss): A fine introduction to the set, with its rhythmic treatment, its stac­cato emphasis on rhymes, and its building to a sustained climax with harmonic changes. "Once in Love with Amy" (Where's Charley?, 1948; with mu­sic and lyrics by Frank Loesser): Origi­nally Ray Bolger soft-shoed this sing-along ballad to ecstatic audi­ences. Besides recreating this song-and-dance situation, Torme works up some melodic improvisations for the lyric.

"A Sleepin' Bee" (House of Flowers, 1954; music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen): This melody began as one of composer Arlen's famous "jots." He had thought of developing it for Judy Garland's A Star Is Born, but the tune was put aside and soon he himself was working on its lyric. "On the Street Where You Live" (My Fair Lady, 1956; music by Frederick Loewe, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner): Torme and Paich take us for a fast trot down this famed thoroughfare. In the show—as on this recording — the song enthusiastically announced Freddy's love for Eliza Doolittle. So successfully did Freddy plead his case that Shaw himself in­sisted that it was to be Freddy, and not Professor Henry Higgins, who was to win the girl.

"All I Need Is the Girl" (Gypsy, 1959; music by Jule Styne, lyr­ics by Stephen Sondheim): For this tap-and-song specialty, Torme has con­cocted some up-dated lyrics, with ech­oes of Max Shulman and Ira Gershwin. "Just in Time" (Bells Are Ringing, 1956; music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green): Torme establishes this contemporary stand­ard to the accompaniment of bass and drums; then the band comes in, and soon Torme is spinning out improvisa­tions upon this insistently simple me­lodic line.

"Hello, Young Lovers" (The King and I,1951; music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II): Conceived as a bittersweet ballad, this song here gets sped up as Torme and Paich give it new emphasis and phras­ing. "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" (Oklahoma!, 1943; music by Ri­chard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Ham­merstein II): The song itself may have been in the tradition of "The Donkey Serenade" with its jog-jog tempo and repetitive melody, but the show created its own genre: the American folk operetta. "Old Devil Moon" (Finian s Rainbow, 1947; music by Bur­ton Lane; lyrics by E. Y. Harburg): This song takes its title from a phrase in "Fun to be Fooled," a song which E. Y. Harburg had written with Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen for 1934's Life Begins at 8:40. Paich now gives this quasi-Irish ballad a South American beat.

"What­ever Lola Wants" (Damn Yankees, 1955; music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross): As handmaiden to the Devil, Gwen Verdon undulated this song to acclaim on both the stage and screen. Torme has worked in his own allusion to Nabokov and worked over the song to advantage. "Too Darn Hot" (Kiss Me, Kate, 1948; music and lyrics by Cole Porter): Here we have a bril­liant arrangement, excitingly enunci­ated, with all the seldom-heard lyrics; and hear that repeated title and key changes which ever set it off.

"Lonely Town(On the Town, 1944; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green): A song which has never lost its memorable evocation of World War II New York, this number can also be a contempo­rary supper-club lament, as Torme and Paich prove in this final demonstration of their facility with jazz equation.


Personnel: Mel Torme, vocals, with the Marty Paich Orchestra. Orchestra includes Al Porcino, Stu Williamson, trumpets; Frank Rosolino, trombone; Vince DeRosa, French horn; Red Callender, tuba; Art Pepper, alto sax; Bill Perkins, tenor sax; Bill Hood, bari­tone sax; Marty Paich, piano; Joe Mondragon, bass; Mel Lewis, drums.

Arranged and conducted by Marty Paich.

Recorded January 21, February 4 and 11, 1960 in Los Angeles.

Produced by Russ Garcia. Recording Engineer: Val Valentin