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James Torme

James Torme

James Torme

How did this new album and overall concept for it come about, and what are your ultimate goals with it?

Well, eOne Music, the label/distributor with which I’m in business, wanted me to make a totally different album - much more minimal, with just me and my jazz trio. I had basically gone along with that plan, but when it came down to actually sitting there with John Daversa and putting the song-list together, I got a little crazy. I wanted strings on this, woodwinds on that, horns on this, all three on that. Not machines. There are no machines anywhere on this album. If you hear it, somebody played it.

So I basically surrendered to the idea that if I was really going to deliver everything I’m capable of creating, I might as well go big [or go home]. Of course, it was logistically much more challenging - 68 people were involved in the making of the album. And in the end we went way over budget.

But the outcome is very special. Sometimes being an artist is all about staying true to a vision, including one that emerges from he process itself. And that’s exactly what I did, regardless of the cost.

At what point in your life did you make the decision to become a professional musician and actually record your own albums?

I don't think I ever really made that decision. More like it was made for me. The teacher who hated me the most in elementary school also asked me to sing a Beatles song (“We Can Work It Out”) for the entire school at assembly. As early as 10 years old I was being put in leading roles in BBC music plays in England.

From then on, I had a very strong sense of having been blessed with the gift of musicality and singing. Furthermore, the exposure to the world of my Mum, Dad and Grandmother, who were all great performers, inspired me along the way. This is not to say that I had “stage parents”. In fact I had quite the opposite. My folks hoped I’d “grow out of" the notion of being a music artist. But that simply never happened. And, in all seriousness, my genuine interest in music has driven the whole thing along since day one.

Going back in your life as far as you can remember, what song or performance is the first you recall hearing and being affected by?

I remember a classical piece called "On Hearing The First Cuckoo In Spring" by Fredrick Delius that my dad always played on the piano in the house...it is literally my earliest musical memory from when I was two or three. Delius was a genius - way ahead of his time. Then there were amazing concerts I saw growing up, my dad with George Shearing, Mulligan, Carmen McRae, Ella, June Christy - all these people have had a major influence on me. And then there was hearing Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" on local radio in Los Angeles and torturing my mother until she bought me the tape and an Emerson cassette-corder to play it on. Or the early Walkman my old man sent me with a tape of Earth Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire” already inside.

The artists I loved in the 80's had an indelible effect on my musical development. Everyone from Cindy Lauper and Elvis Costello to Earth Wind And Fire, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Todd Rundgren, the Cars and Bonnie Raitt left their marks on me.

What would be the most important piece of advice you’d impart to a young musician just starting out in the jazz/smooth jazz arena?

To singers, I'd say don’t be an impression of anybody else. Don’t be a Sinatra or Chet Baker or Billy Holliday impersonator. There are already plenty of those. Find your own true voice and work from there. Listen to the slightly lesser known greats. Bobby Troup, Matt Dennis, Jeri Southern, Carmen McRae, June Christy…my old man of course. And mean every word you sing. From Mel Tormé to Michael Jackson, all of my singing heroes did that every time.

To instrumentalists, I'd say always be looking to advance the cause of jazz by pushing the envelope musically, rather than solely replicating the past, or the vibe of the past. But most importantly to all jazz singers and players: simply keep playing. Keep doing it and not stopping. No matter what anyone says.

There’s nothing that moves me more than to see young players out there doing their thing. It makes me smile as I realize there is still a very bright future ahead for jazz.

What are you most proud of at this point in your life and career?

Winning the John Lennon Award, playing the Greek Theater, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and with famous orchestras in other cities, pulling off complicated musical works in front of thousands of fans - who give you standing ovations – it's all great stuff. Great stuff. And I've enjoyed it. But ultimately, what I think I’m most proud of is this debut album.

It is my single greatest accomplishment to date. It brings together so many musicians and singers, and material, both old and new, that I respect. It's just as well that it's called "Love For Sale" - because that's exactly what it is.

What would you define as the most life-changing event so far in your musical career?

My dad’s death in 1999 was almost certainly the most life-changing event - (and the life before it) especially in terms of how it affected my music career. It’s the inspiration behind the level of focus, care and ambition that I’ve put into my own music. And obviously I have surrounded myself with quite a lot of his music – partly to keep him close to me – so to speak – meanwhile I find myself striving for new musical places and levels he would be happy with.

No matter what, I want to be doing something absolutely comparable, in its level of excellence, to that older generation but also take care to be doing something brand new. I’m walking on a fine line in some ways – bridging a gap between jazz and Pop/R&B. But that’s who I am so I know I shouldn’t run from it.

My influences are what they are. For me one of the best parts is seeing young music fans discovering my dad’s music, and the jazz genre, in general, by way of hearing me. That’s what you call gratification.

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