Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Peter Stenshoel's Album of the Week: Mel Torme With the Mel-Tones and Artie Shaw

1946 vintage Mel Torme!  There are several reasons to dig these sides. 

Artie Shaw's Orchestra, a disciplined musical engine, provided crystal clear backdrops to these songs. 

The Mel-Tones, much like the Modernaires did with Glenn Miller, are in the midst of changing history here with what were considered cutting edge vocal harmonies.  This was the hip-hop of its day: fresh, brash, and likely to confound the old folks at home for its "far-out" qualities.  And they have a SoCal connection--they were all students at Los Angeles City College when they started out. 

Mel Torme, "The Velvet Fog," whose voice will likely never be duplicated, proffers his round timbre to the sonic feast as if pouring a complex Malbec in our eardrum cups. 

The songs represent a kind of aesthetic we don't get these days.  In our hook-up/hang-out culture, we have lost what I can only call a "nuanced sauciness."  Consider the song, "And So to Bed."  Heck, you couldn't even title a song that these days without folks assuming assignation.  But check out the innocence of these lyrics:

Ding dong, ding dong
Slumber time,
The moon descends
And so to bed.
The music ends
And go to bed.

Should auld acquaintance linger in your heart,
Then don't forget we're just a dream apart!
Tomorrow night seems far away,
But after all it's just a day!
And I'll remember every word you said,
I love you so, and so to bed,
(Yawn)
And so to bed!

Anyone who spent time courting a sweetheart can relate to the "sweet sorrow" of parting, and this song documents it. 

Another example is "Get Out of Town."  When you hear Mel order the object of his infatuation to "get out of town," because "when you are near, close to me dear, we touch too much," you can hear the perplexed anguish in his voice.  This is priceless.

Finally, I must offer the Irving Berlin piece to our recession-weary citizens.  "I've Got the Sun in the Morning," from the musical Annie Get Your Gun, recognizes the powerful principle of gratitude in the face of hardship:

"I'm not a millionaire, but I haven't got time to care.  Got no checkbooks, Got no banks.  I want to express my thanks.  I've got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.  Everything's all right."

Next time you hear trendy singers whining about how dire and dreary their life is, turn the table by putting this song on your turntable.

I'll end with some gratitude on my part to the Musicraft Company who brought the artists together.  None of the singers were regularly with Artie Shaw.  These sessions are considered to be superior even to Frank Sinatra's Columbia sides and have been a well-kept secret for decades.  You can find the whole thing on CD today.

Your comments and critiques are always welcome.  See you next week!

BONUS: click here to read more about Mel Torme's memories of the recording sessions!

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