Paul’s Pick: James Torme joins Greenville Symphony for ‘Holiday at Peace’

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James Torme, son of legendary jazz crooner Mel Torme, will perform at Holiday at Peace with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra, Nov. 30-Dec. 2. Photo courtesy of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra.

Paul’s Pick of the Week: “Holiday at Peace,” the Christmas pops show, Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at the Peace Center.

Why you should go: It’s a Greenville holiday tradition! Plus, the Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s annual “Holiday at Peace” will feature James Torme, son of legendary honey-voiced crooner Mel Torme.

James Torme will spotlight some of his father’s favorite Christmas tunes, including “The Christmas Song,” also known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”

“This show is totally steeped in his music,” Torme said. “It’s based on his 1992 Christmas album.”

Greenville’s International Ballet will also return for this annual Christmas variety show. Greenville Symphony music director Edvard Tchivzhel will preside over the Yuletide revels.

Santa and Mrs. Claus are likely to make an appearance, as well.

Born into entertainment: James Torme grew up in a starry household where frequent houseguests included Edward G. Robinson, Gene Hackman, Donald O’Connor, Betty White, Olivia de Haviland, and Barry Manilow.

“When I was young, I thought they were all aunts and uncles,” Torme said with a laugh.

His Grammy Award-winning father, nicknamed the Velvet Fog, not only made 80 albums but acted in 45 films and wrote several books. His mother is the British actress Janette Scott. His grandmother was the late actress Thora Hird, whose parents were in theater.

A life in showbiz seemed inevitable for James.

“I’m fourth-generation in this business,” Torme said.

The Greenville Journal spoke to Torme recently by phone from his home in Los Angeles.

Greenville Journal: What’s on tap for your performance here?

Torme: I’ll sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Christmas Waltz,” and Johnny Mercer’s holiday version of “The Glow Worm” and other songs. Without exception, these are pieces my father did. I’ll do one jazz number so the audience can get a flavor of my scat singing, what my father and Ella Fitzgerald did so well.

You seem to be carrying on your father’s legacy, favoring his music and his style. Is that so?

Yes, and proud to do so. My dad was a huge inspiration to me. He taught me how to have a love affair with music. But I’ve carved out my own identity and career. I think of myself as an evolution of my father.

What did you learn from your father about singing?

My father used to say that the lyrics are 75 percent of any song’s worth. He taught me how to appreciate a lyric. But I’m a big melody guy, too. He encouraged my musicality. We sang together. He taught me the fine parts of how to deliver a note, holding the vibrato until the end. I’m endlessly grateful for all the time I spent with my father involving music. It served as a foundation for my entire career.

When you sing, do you hear his voice?

Inescapably. And I always sing in a manner he would approve of. In some ways, I feel like he’s looking down on me. So, I try to please him, even though he’s been gone, unbelievably, for 20 years now. When I do this Christmas pops holiday show, it’s very emotional. I usually cry at least once when I’m preparing the show. This show is totally steeped in his music.

And you sing “The Christmas Song”?

Oh, yes. The entire concert builds up to “The Christmas Song.” I like to call it “the song that put me through college.” (Laughs) I tell the story of how it was written. My father wrote it on a very hot July day with his longtime writing partner Bob Wells. This was before air conditioning. Wells said, “I thought if I could just write a wintry verse, I could cool down psychologically.” Long story short, they wrote the song in 23 minutes and immediately drove over to Nat King Cole’s house. They played the song for Nat once in his house and he said, “Play that again.” They played it a second time, and before they finished, Nat said, “Stop! That’s MY song. Nobody else gets that song.” And it became his biggest hit ever. It was the first ever big holiday song to be introduced to us by an African-American, which is something I know my dad would be proud of.

Were your dad and Nat King Cole close?

Yes, they were very close. My dad was one of the first people who toured with Nat King Cole in the days when a mixed-race tour was very rare.

See you in Greenville soon!

Thanks! I’m so excited about this concert. It’s an absolute pleasure for me to do every time.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Journal. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

If you go:

What: Holiday at Peace, featuring vocalist James Torme with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra (sponsored by United Community Bank)

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 and Dec. 1; 3 p.m. Dec 2

Where: Peace Center

Tickets: $18 to $60 (Tickets for children 12 and under are half price.)

Info: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org

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