What’s in a name?
Well, if it’s Steve March Torme, it’s the influence of two of entertainment’s most renowned figures that resides in the body and spirit of this jazz pop singer/songwriter who will be appearing in the Cabaret Jazz room at the Smith Center this coming weekend, September 27 and 28.
While carrying all that doesn’t necessarily add weight to his physical frame, it does make for some heavy credentials. March Torme is the son of the famed late pop jazz singer, Mel Torme, whose smooth tones earned him the nickname of “The Velvet Fog,” and the stepson of the late Hal March, who hosted the popular TV game show, The $64,000 Question, and starred on Broadway in Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn..
“My dad, Mel, and my mom divorced when I was two-and-a-half years old,” March Torne relates. “My dad was busy with his career and was on the road much of the time so we didn’t see each other a lot. I was brought up in New York and he was in Los Angeles. When my mom married Hal, I was raised by him and her alone. I had four brothers and a sister and that was my family at the time. I was 17 when Hal died and I moved out on my own.
“Mel and I became close the last 15 years of his life – he died in 1999.” he continues. “We became closer and more tolerant of each other. It actually came about because, at one point, he needed a favor. – he wanted me to check on my grandfather, his father, once a week and take him out to lunch and help him with his chores. My dad and I had a lot in common. Like his, my voice is a natural instrument and I’m so thankful that I got the things I got from him, including the ‘smarts’ and advice he gave me and that instrument I’ve taken care of. We once performed together at Carnegie Hall, singing ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’ But Hal was a terrific stepdad who spent a lot of time with me. I had my name legally changed to Steve March Torme to honor them both.”
Despite his legacy, March Torme grew up listening to music other than his dad’s. He was a fan of such artists as Kenny Loggins and Hall and Oates. Working in bands and being paid professionally by the time he was 16 or 17, at 23, March Torme got his first record deal with United Artists doing all his own original material. He also produced an album for Liza Minnelli for Columbia Records called Tropical Nights, having been introduced to her by his friends Desi Arnaz Jr. whom she was dating at the time.
“Liza remembered that she and I had actually played together as kids growing up in New York,” March Torme says. “But I had done an original album for U.A. called Lucky and she loved the way I sang and my orchestrations. She wanted to do the title track “Lucky” for her album but it didn’t really fit in with her style of singing.”
After replacing Kathy Lee Gifford on the hit Ralph Edwards TV show Name That Tune, which March Torme was on for three years, his next record deal was with Richard Perry at Planet Records. Perry had produced the likes of Barbra Streisand, the Pointer Sisters, Carly Simon and others. That deal for March Torme came about through Leonard Feather, the jazz critic for the L.A. Times, who wrote books on jazz and knew Mel Torme well.
“Leonard’s daughter, Lorraine, was putting together a group that was being produced by Richard Perry,” March Torme explains. “Quincy Jones, who had seen me perform in a tribute concert to Henry Mancini, had recommended me to her. Record producer Joel Silver, who was partners with Richard Perry, wanted to do a kind of 40’s-style Manhattan Transfer kind of group with Lorraine and Charlotte Crossley, who were both members of the Harlettes, Bette Midler’s backup group. Although I wanted to be a solo act, I joined the group and did an album and tour. But on the way back from Japan, I looked at myself n the mirror and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ So I called Lorraine and told her that she needed to get another boy singer”
In the last few years, March Torme has recorded albums of his own that have gotten airplay. He moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, seven years ago when he and his wife had their first child (they now have two) and they wanted to be closer to his wife’s parents. March Torme wrote and recorded his latest album there and started calling around to get radio play. That evolved into his getting his own weekly national music radio show that is currently number one in drive time in the demographic of men aged 35-64 and high up in the other demos.
“If my dad had been alive these last 15 years, we could have done some great music together,” March Torme, whose show combines American standards, pop tunes, and his original songs, all with new arrangements, sums up. “It was simply a matter of understanding each other and giving leeway to each other. He sang with me on “Straighten Up and Fly Right” on one of my albums and we did dueling scat things.
“Over the last 15 years, I’ve become the singer I want to be,” he adds. “The most important thing I’ve learned is to give to an audience instead of having them give to me. I’ve learned to connect with an audience by being human and honest when I sing. My job is to be the conduit of emotions for people. When women come up to me after my show and tell me that their husbands had tears in their eyes, I know I’ve done something right.”
That’s the name of the game.