Friday, March 18, 2011

Mel mania and the last long, hot summer

In many ways, it was the last long, hot summer.

I was still in school, crowding in on my last year at UT, working at a book store to pay what few bills I had then, and taking a jazz history course -- for credit! Those were the days.

Seems like I heard the news, appropriately enough, on the radio. Mel Torme, the Velvet Fog, was dead.

I had found him through, of all people, Harry Anderson, and "Night Court." Being the weirdo kid I was, I bought a cassette tape of Mel's classic "Swings Shubert Alley" when I was in the 5th or 6th grade, while the other kids were into rap or Wilson Phillips or whatever.

Man, could that cat scat. Like somebody once said, "Shubert Alley" swings with a power that rock and roll never could.

I found the tape and played it in the car the morning Mel died.

Too close, too close for comfort, now...

Keith Brown played a cut or two of Mel's music in class. I've forgotten what, but I think it was from the Shubert album. Of course. What else?

After I graduated, I shot up into a Mel mania, buying a pristine copy of his peerless autobiography, "It Wasn't All Velvet," on eBay, along with several CDs and a rare VHS copy of Mel's 1982 TV special. There he is, scatting and swinging, knocking out "Here's That Rainy Day" and "New York State of Mind." Yeah, baby.

I stumbled across the tape earlier and slipped it in the dust-covered VHS player to forget about the flu. It made me think of that last long, hot summer, and about an era long gone with the wind, at Shubert Alley, or "On the Street Where You Live."

Here is a link to a Torme tale I like very much.

By the way, I am on a quixotic quest to find Mel's cover version of "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues." Shoot me an e-mail if you have it or know where I can get it.

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