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James Tormé displays a brand uniquely his own

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James Tormé

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He may be storied jazz singer Mel Tormé’s progeny, but James Tormé demonstrated that he has his own distinct sound, not to mention identity, when he opened his two day run Thursday at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis.

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The 40 year-old descendant of “The Velvet Fog,” as his father was known, was accompanied by what he called his “James Tormé All-Star Trio.” Consisting of Nikos Syropolous on piano, Ryan Cross on bass and Dan Schnelle on drums, the three are considered to be some of the most sought after musicians in L.A. And they certainly showed why, both individually and collectively, through their virtuoso performances.

Tormé, wore black horn rimmed glasses, and was dressed in a fitted black suit accented with a matching skinny tie, He was the picture of cool urbane sophistication but also conveyed an easy-going affability, charm and a likeability that was endearing. His fast-paced show, during which he sprinkled anecdotes about his father, mother (Janette Scott, a famous British actress), background and his own career, included renditions of many jazz standards and Great American Songbook songs composed by or made famous by music greats (including his father).

“No Moon At All” by David Mann, Lerner and Loewe’s “Almost Like Being in Love,” “Sunny Gets Blue,” “Mountain Greenery” and “That Old Black Magic” were just a few of the songs that illustrated Tormé’s talent for styling. Making some songs sound like the entertainers of old, he was also able to put a contemporary spin on others. A smooth as silk crooner, Tormé also demonstrated that he can scat, swing and riff with the best of them.

Reverse psychology was what Tormé said his dad used the night he met his mother in 1965 while playing the Cool Elephant, a famous jazz club in London. Prior to singing “Too Close for Comfort,” Tormé said that it was a song his dad sang that night he first laid eyes on his mother. She had been living with the journalist David Frost up to that point, but left that night with Mel and, six months later, the two of them were married.

Tormé also showed his talent for singing the blues when he brought down the house with his version of “Drowning in My Own Tears,” written by Harry Glover and released as a single by Ray Charles in 1956. Recently, Tormé enjoyed a sold out U.K. tour and while in London he performed with the BBC orchestra in a Radio 2 concert tribute to Ray Charles which was heard by 13 million listeners.

It was clear when Tormé sang Cole Porter's “Love for Sale,” which is the title track on his 201l début album, that the apple did not fall far from the tree in terms of his ability to connect with the audience, but at the same time he also showed an charisma and stage presence that is his very own.

A wonderful arrangement of “Just One of Those Things,” which incorporated a brief quote from “ On Green Dolphin Street,” and a medley of ”Coming Home” and “Mary Ann” were the last two numbers of Tormé’s highly appealing, not to mention satisfying, set.

Pianist Syropolous, who Tormé likened to the great George Shearing, bass player Cross who has appeared on TV hit shows “The X-Factor,” “The Voice” and “Glee,” and drummer Schnelle, who Tormé jokingly referred to as the “Schnellvet Fog,” all played brilliantly whenever throughout his show. The combination of their world class musicianship and Tormé’s incomparable vocal gifts and showmanship made for a rare musical experience.

For tickets and information regarding the remainder of the Cabaret at the Columbia Club’s 2013-2014 fall/spring season call (317) 257-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.

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