UWFox Hosts Performances by Steve March-Tormé
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Ironically, Steve March-Tormé may have come into his musical success more because of his grandfather Tormé than his own father, Mel Tormé. Mel had been a distant figure in his son’s life since the family’s divorce when Steve was just two and a half years old. Raised by his mother, the former model Candy Tockstein, and his beloved stepfather actor-and-comedian Hal March (of NBC’s famed The $64,000 Question), Mel Tormé was primarily working in California as Steve and his siblings were growing up in Westchester County, New York.
Steve easily conjures up the names of Hollywood A-listers who would come to dinner at his parents’ home in New York. Steve was already tucked into bed, or so his parents thought, as Milton Berle, SheckyGreene, Lucille Ball and an entire cadre of Borscht Belt actors and comedians were entertained – and did the entertaining – around the dinner table downstairs. “I did a lot of listening at the door and sneaking down the staircase. I’d hear the raucous laughter, and I was drawn to it. It’s like circus performers; their kids grow up to think performing in a circus is normal. I thought that kind of entertainment was normal. I’m a natural ham,” Steve said.
Hal March’s death rocked Steve’s world at age 17, and he left home on a journey of admitted self exploration – and self indulgence. “That father-son relationship is so vitally important, the impact of a father on a son is so incredibly profound. Hal was bright, well-read, and he instilled in me a sense of self-esteem. He was the one who made me feel secure and comforted.”
It was that period of searching that led Steve to back to a stronger relationship with his own father, Mel Tormé. Steve called on him asking for a favor, and Mel was willing to make a deal. Steve remembers the conversation in his father’s words, “He said, ‘I adore your grandpa, but he’s driving me crazy. He’ll call me back stage when I’m on the road all upset because he can’t find his belt. So here’s what I need from you – go and spend one day a week with grandpa. Have lunch, do his errands, take him shopping.’”
Looking back, Steve acknowledges the genius of his father’s bargain. “Over the next five years, I never missed a Monday with Grandpa. The man was over 90 years old, so some days could get really crazy. My dad got a very, very good deal,” he laughed. But another good part of the deal was a rebirth in the father-son relationship between Steve and his father Mel, one strengthened by common interests in music and vintage planes, model trains and automobiles.
“We spent his last ten or 15 years mostly together,” Steve said of his father, who was debilitated by a stroke in 1996 and passed away in 1999. “That’s when I started to really exploit and nurture this talent I’d been given, because I realized it would be criminal if I didn’t. I believe I’ve really come into my own, and become a really good singer, in the last seven years. Over the past five years, my father would’ve really liked what I’m doing. He’d have been a fan.”
That musicianship continuously evolving, Steve can mark the time in his boyhood when he started switching the radio dial at the end of Yankees games to listen and sing along to Top 40 music. With a combination of practice and natural talent, Steve earned his first performer’s paycheck at age 13 and recorded his first LP, Lucky, in the 1970s. What followed were years of television work, as both a host and a vocalist, a worldwide tour with the group Full Swing, and finally, a solo career. His first CD, Swingin’ at the Blue Moon Bar & Grille, featured a live duet between Steve and his dad Mel in “Straighten up & Fly Right.” Several CDs have since been released, and Tormé is proud of their artistic progression, including his 2007 28-city cross-country tour called Tormé Sings Tormé. His most recent release isinside/out, a blend of twelve brand new original tunes written entirely by Steve, and it’s the first CD he’s recorded on which he sings and plays guitar and keyboards. Conceived as more of a “pop” album, it harkens back to his youthful days of singing along with the radio.
Steve’s blend of artistically arranged standards are warmly complemented by his witty original works, and he has been called upon to work this magic in his first-ever cabaret performance at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley in December. “The best part about writing is that I get bored easily. I try to come up with clever rhyme schemes. As for chord changes, I try something a little more sophisticated, without being too big for the room.” He aspires to conjure Joni Mitchell with his word choice, and Steely Dan with his inventive chording. “When Tony (Garton, lifelong piano and voice performer and former UWFox music lecturer, now serving as the campus’ events coordinator) asked me to do a cabaret, I knew I could make it work. I love to sing the ballads of America’s great songwriters, and I will blend those with many of my original songs.” Sharing the stage with pianist John Harmon for the first time, and John Gibson on bass, Tormé is excited about the promise of “two hours, with two extremely revered musicians, in such a nice intimate setting.” And he knows if he’s touched people after the show is done. “I’m most interested in what people come and tell me after the show. Then I know if I’ve done my job, if it was pure, if it touched people emotionally.”
Coming back to his father, coming back to the music he first fell in love with as a young boy. Why did Steve and his wife Anne come back to Wisconsin from California? Family. Five years ago the couple was raising their two little girls in Santa Monica without any nearby relatives and it was difficult. Anne’s grandparents had a farmstead in Berlin, Wisconsin, and “… it was a simple pro and con list. I get on a plane to do much of my work, so I can do that from pretty much anywhere.” Now surrounded by a tightly woven network of family, close friends, and fans who feel comfortable approaching him on the street or in the store, Steve March-Tormé makes his life work in new and interesting ways. His ideas on music, fatherhood and making a home for his family are his own, but as in any meaningful creative endeavor, they do not exist in isolation. They’re a new and better version of Tormé on Tormé.
If You Go:
John Harmon, piano
John Gibson, bass
Songs from the Golden Age of Broadway Musicals
Two cabaret performances
Saturday, December 4, 2010
6:30 p.m. SOLD OUT
Baehman Theatre inside the Communication Arts Center at UWFox
Hear the incomparable melodies of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Gershwin, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim interspersed with Steve March-Tormé’s personal anecdotes of the legendary performers who were in and out of the homes of his father, Mel Tormé, and step-father, Hal March.
The intimacy of the Baehman Theatre is ideal for this 1950s style cabaret setting. Seating is extremely limited so get your tickets early. Tickets are $35 per person. Cash bar. Those wanting to sit with friends need to purchase tickets as a group.
For more information, call the CAC Box Office, 920-832-2646 or online at https://foxtickets.uwc.edu/.