Chapter Twenty-Five of An Ecstatic Loneliness: Mel Tormé’s Stardust
By Michael Moriarty
There are American poets and the poetry of the American Songbook… and then there is Mel Tormé.
Here is why I must say that.
Few world-class masters of the American Songbook could possibly achieve the divinely inspired and exquisitely controlled abandon of this musical giant. That pantheon of singers I refer to includes, of course, the American Songbook’s well-known Gods, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
Mel Tormé’s musical divinity?
“Attention to detail” is but one ingredient within his profound and unmistakably Renaissance genius. Such a corner of heavenly discipline is so self-evident in this rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust.
As Mel himself knew, I once sang occasionally myself.
However, and much to my shocked and shocking amazement, the power of Mel’s performance of Stardust leaves my own memories of acting on stage, film and television in a tear-filled background! The condition of my soul that is only reserved for two-to-three-hour tours de force, such as seeing Laurence Olivier’s Othello in London… and seeing him on stage in that role live!
I sit and see one of America’s greatest souls, that of Mel Tormé, poring and exploding out of his nakedly transparent countenance, stunning me with that video clip’s close-ups!
As my wife Irene describes it, “The power of Mel Tormé’s sincerity!”
And as I see it, the infinite capacity of this brilliant musician and performing artist to completely embody and entirely become a love song!
Or as my favorite of French actresses, Simone Signoret, confessed, “I’m not so sure about my acting talent… but I do know that I am transparent!”
Mel Tormé’s angelic transparency!
The musical achievement of Mel Tormé’s Stardust is unrelentingly there for all to see and hear. Yet, as Mel himself might say, “what knocks me out” is his mastery of the American Songbook’s language.
The gesture during Stardust, the one that accompanies his lonely but barely perceptible outcry within the word “haunts”?! New breathtaking moments like that fly to my attention with each hearing.
Mastering the words you live within is the essence of great acting.
Mastering their diction is one thing. However, to be as in touch with every vowel and consonant in a lyric’s meaning as Mel Tormé has been?!
To know the potential profundity of such meaningful sounds?!
The bottomless capacity of words to love us. To melt our souls with the magical mists of meaning. To remain, as I describe living within each word, “staying in the eye of the storm!”
I can never tire of repeating the Mel Tormé Stardust video… over and over again. His virtual ecstasies cradled tenderly within Frank Wess’ firmly loving murmurs on an exquisitely free but gentle, tenor sax.
With each new hearing I see and must acknowledge, yet again and again, some new gem within the necklace of diamonds and pearls which Mel Tormé and Frank Wess have created for us out of Stardust.
Mel was, as everyone must know by now, a child prodigy. A Mozart of The American Songbook, both as a singer, composer and arranger.
No Christmas melody and lyric carries more dramatic meaning and power than Mel’s eternally evocative Christmas Song!
White Christmas, of course, certainly matches Christmas Song but the first, once sung, leads automatically to the other!
Here are Mel Tormé and Judy Garland, singing in Judy Garland’s best key for that song.
The seeming impromptu, a capella, “Old English” coda to this rendition and Mel’s harmonizing is… well… what you learn to expect from Mel Tormé: a breathtaking and jauntily dashed-off surprise!
He wrote Christmas Song at the age of 19!
This site should interest any fan of either Mel Tormé or Judy Garland. Rarely are fans of one a fan of the other.
Let’s hear Mel’s Stardust once more! The introduction… or “Intro” to this song?
Here is the entire, unforgettably loving lyric written by Mitchell Parish:
Mel’s first two sounds within the above lyric?!
I go back to hear it again!!
Where does such immediate and instant clarity of meaning come from?! Only God could know!
And God is, even now, rewarding Mel Tormé’s divinely generous artistry on Earth with a special place in His Heaven! Of that I am most positively, not to mention joyously… certain.
A Heaven only briefly but indelibly glimpsed in this rendition of Stardust by a quartet of musical angels led by Frank Wess and one of the Gods of the American Songbook, Mel Tormé!
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.