RIDGEFIELD — Growing up in a household influenced more by comedy than music, Steve March-Tormé says that he surprises people when he confides that in his youth, he spent a lot more time with Buddy Hackett than Buddy Rich.
According to biographer Scott Yanow, March-Tormé actually avoided singing jazz for a long time so he could escape the huge shadow of his father. He actually did not grow up with his father, the entertainer Mel (“The Velvet Frog) Tormé, since his parents were divorced when he was two.
His mother then married actor/comedian Hal March, who became Steve’s stepfather and brought him up. March is best known for his work hosting CBS-TV’s The $64,000 Question and subsequently starred in Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn on Broadway.
When he was 12, March-Tormé enjoyed hearing pop music on the radio and knew that he wanted to be a performer eventually.
A year later he formed his own rock group. He attended Santa Monica College for one semester but dropped out when he signed a record deal and went out on the road.
March-Tormé recorded pop music in the late ‘70s, sang on a Liza Minnelli album, appeared on television, worked as an actor, and hosted television shows dealing with music. He also performed with the jazz-based vocal group Full Swing.
It was not until the mid-’90s that he began to perform jazz. He recorded a duet with his father on “Straighten Up and Fly Right” around that era, although there are earlier incidents of either Steve or Mel showing up at each other’s gigs and sitting in.
One memorable video circulating on YouTube shows the father-son dynamic from a club show (youtube.com/watch?v=BJzhrPRx_18) at My Place in Santa Monica, California, in 1985 where the two trade off verses and improvised scat on the perky “Lulu’s Back In Town,” like they had been doing it together for years.
Variety Of Venues
Today, March-Tormé not only keeps busy performing music in a number of different configurations including with his own trio and quartet, he also developed two different symphony pops formats: “Bernstein to the Beatles, Mercer To Mel,” a project he and his musical director, Steve Rawlins spent four years developing; and his Holiday Pops Concert anchored with his father’s iconic “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting).”
In addition to his live performance schedule, March-Tormé hosts an afternoon drive time radio show, on 91.1 The Avenue, in Wisconsin along with his own 2 hour show on the Music of Your Life radio network.
In a conversation with The Newtown Bee, March-Tormé covered a lot of ground talking about his diverse career, picking material for his current tour, and what audiences might expect when they head out for an intimate set at New Haven’s Sage Bar & Grill on November 5, see him at The Ridgefield Playhouse on November 8, or at The Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook on November 10.
March-Tormé said his latest gig, as a drive time radio host, came about tangentially as he was shopping his latest project to radio stations in his home state of Wisconsin.
“I was making phone calls to a bunch of radio stations here. I really had nothing to lose,” he recalled. “So one of the stations called back saying there were a couple of songs they really liked. Then about a week later, they called asking me to come in to record a couple of station IDs.”
A short time later, the station called again, this time asking if he wanted to host his own radio show.
“I said if you’re going to give me a slot, give me a good slot. And they gave me the afternoon drive time,” he said.
What started out as an eclectic mix of jazz, classic singers and ‘60s folk has morphed into an even wider mix including Mumford & Sons, The Beatles, the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, March-Tormé said. The artist said his earlier projects incorporated more jazz than pop, but his most recent release, Inside/Out, has March-Tormé branching out into the pop genre.
“I loved my dad and he was a great singer and performer, but when I got into music it had very little to do with him,” March-Tormé said. “We didn’t live together. So when people ask me about his influence, I tell them I didn’t live with my dad past the age of two.
“I was surrounded by comedians and pop music,” he said. “I met Buddy Rich, but I spent a lot more time with Buddy Hackett, because he was one of Hal March’s friends. Those were the people around our house most of the time.”
Branching Into Pop
Leaning more toward the Beatles, Todd Rundgrin and Hall & Oates when he was growing up, March-Tormé admitted that he didn’t become a good singer until the past decade.
“I think my dad would say, ‘yeah, now you’re a good singer.’ It takes awhile to learn how to be a good singer,” March-Tormé said. “I was blessed with a really good ear for intonation, which I think comes from my dad. But learning that less is more, and the nuances of really singing a song, and really working a song, has been a more recent development.”
His current set, he said, might include a hit or two from the likes of Stevie Wonder, and even a surprise opening number originally recorded by the classic rock band Cream. In the future, he hopes to add material from other contemporary artists like Connecticut native John Mayer.
March-Tormé said he over rehearses his material so he is very comfortable on stage, but he’s curious about the dynamics between a gig at the Playhouse and the set like he’s planning at the Sage Bar & Grill.
“It’s really different from being on stage at a performing arts center versus being there a few feet from somebody eating a salad,” he said. “I like to have a big open stage to work on because I just don’t stand there. But I’m not nervous about being there amongst a crowd.
“The truth is, I just want to sing, and every time I do it gets better and better,” March-Tormé concluded. “And I’m getting a lot more people coming up to me after these shows saying they didn’t know what to expect, and asking me when I’ll be coming back for another show. I just want to be on a stage and the rest will take care of itself.”
Tickets for Steve March-Tormé at the Ridgefield Playhouse are $35, and can be obtained at ridgefieldplayhouse.org. A wine & cheese tasting and artist reception will begin at 7:15 pm, and curtain will be at 8.
For more information and links to information about his other area appearances, visit stevemarchtorme.com.