Cherry's Galveston Memories
never sure exactly when it’s going to happen, but every year at
sometime during the Christmas
season I realize how much I really miss my friend, jazz singer Mel
Mel knew more about the mixing of cord harmonies than anyone did
before or has since. He was the one who taught that art to bandleaders
Les Baxter and Artie Shaw, and singers Ginny O’Connor (Henry Mancini’s
wife), the Hi-Los and the Manhattan Transfer. He’s the one who wrote
the arrangements for Chico Marx’s band when Mel was but a teenager.
And no one sung the songs of Christmas with more interpretive passion
than Mel, even though he was Jewish.
Mel’s also the one my business colleague of twenty-plus years ago,
Carol Todreas, and I tromped on many bitter-cold snowy nights from
our Central Park South hotel to a small jazz club on Manhattan’s
east side called Marty’s, to hear him front the George Shearing
Trio, in a packed house that held no more than 70.
Marty’s was carved out of the first-floor corner of a multi-story
parking garage. It was New York City’s best kept secret. No way
did the owner make any money, and it’s for sure Mel and Shearing
were working for not much more than a free meal.
But for them it was the perfect gig. For the audience it was the
venue of succes d’estime.
Mel Torme wrote the tune and most of the words to the Christmas song
that goes, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping
at your nose.” And he did it when he was just 22-years old.
summer he appeared to a packed house in the Marine Ballroom at Galveston’s
Pleasure Pier. And he had one successful appearance after another
at the Island’s Balinese
Room, although his name never seems to be included in the list
of the B-Room’s star performers – entertainers like Phil Harris,
Myron Cohen, Frank Sinatra and the like -- when someone speaks or
writes about those days.
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Every year symphonies
give their annual Christmas Pops concerts. The houses are always
packed. But interestingly, when you look around to see who’s in
the audience, you would think that every senior citizen within a
fifty-mile radius was there, while the young people were obviously
The orchestra plays arrangements of many of the favorites – Adeste
Fideles, Little Drummer Boy, Deck the Halls, O Come All Ye Faithful
and so on.
I remember that one time the vote on my wife, Patty’s, and my row
was that a Davis/Custer arrangement of Silent Night was the best.
It may have been. But before that, they had played my old friend
Mel’s song. And I sung along in my head, “Chestnuts roasting on
an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Yule time carols....”
And that time like every other time, while the orchestra and the
rest of the audience moved on in the program, they left me behind,
as they always do, to think of Christmases of the past when Mel
was still singing his songs, Carol and I were tromping through the
Manhattan snow to hear him at Marty’s, and all of the members of
the Cherry family were still alive and together awaiting the wonderful
celebration of Christmas.
Those are all of the reasons in the world for me to miss Mel Torme.
Bill Cherry's Galveston
July 3, 2009 column
Copyright William S. Cherry. All rights reserved
Bill Cherry, a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime
columnist for "The Galveston County Daily News." His book, Bill
Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold thousands, and is still
available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com and other bookstores.