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This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

The Music of Christmas: "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire"


EVERY DAY FROM NOVEMBER 30-DECEMBER 24, I AM HIGHLIGHTING A CHRISTMAS SONG AND THE STORY BEHIND IT. PLEASE ENJOY AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!



Just how amazing is Mel Torme’s contribution to Christmas?

Gary North writes on LewRockwell.com:

It began with a trip to the home of his song-writing partner, Bob Wells.

One excessively hot afternoon, I drove out to Bob’s house in Toluca Lake for a work session. The San Fernando Valley, always at least ten degrees warmer than the rest of the town, blistered in the July sun.... I opened the front door and walked in.... I called for Bob. No answer. I walked over to the piano. A writing pad rested on the music board. Written in pencil on the open page were four lines of verse:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.


When Bob finally appeared, I asked him about the little poem. He was dressed sensibly in tennis shorts and a white T-shirt, but he still looked uncomfortably warm.

"It was so hot today," he said, "I thought I’d write something to cool myself off. All I could think of was Christmas and cold weather."

I took another look at his handiwork. "You know," I said, "this just might make a song."

We sat down together at the piano, and, improbable though it may sound, "The Christmas Song" was completed about forty-five minutes later. Excitedly, we called Carlos Gastel, sped into Hollywood, played it for him, then for Johnny Burke, and then for Nat Cole, who fell in love with the tune. It took a full year for Nat to get into a studio to record it, but his record finally came out in the last fall of 1946; and the rest could be called our financial pleasure.

Think about the chain of events. Tormé walked in the door, presumably after knocking. His friend was missing. He called out his name. No answer. He wandered over to the piano. There was a writing pad with what looked like a poem written in pencil.

Wham! Why not a Christmas song? Why not, indeed?

Forty-five minutes later, stage one of their joint lifetime annuity was finished.

It is also worth considering that the title, "The Christmas Song," was still available.

They got on the phone to call around to promote it.

They called Nat Cole.

Just for the record, Tormé and Wells [Levinson] were Jewish. Think about that for a minute. A couple of Jewish kids sat down in July to write a Christmas song, which was recorded by a black jazz singer the next year. As a result, they all got rich.

Only in America.

Now fast forward to a much older Mel Torme.

From Mark Evanier at POVonline.com (Point of view online) who wrote the following in July of 1999:


I want to tell you a story...

The scene is Farmer's Market — the famed tourist mecca of Los Angeles.  It's located but yards from the facility they call, "CBS Television City in Hollywood"...which, of course, is not in Hollywood but at least is very close.

Farmer's Market is a quaint collection of bungalow stores, produce stalls and little stands where one can buy darn near anything edible one wishes to devour.  You buy your pizza slice or sandwich or Chinese food or whatever at one of umpteen counters, then carry it on a tray to an open-air table for consumption.

During the Summer or on weekends, the place is full of families and tourists and Japanese tour groups.  But this was a winter weekday, not long before Christmas, and the crowd was mostly older folks, dawdling over coffee and danish.  For most of them, it's a good place to get a donut or a taco, to sit and read the paper.

For me, it's a good place to get out of the house and grab something to eat.  I arrived, headed for my favorite barbecue stand and, en route, noticed that Mel Tormé was seated at one of the tables.

Mel Tormé.  My favorite singer.  Just sitting there, sipping a cup of coffee, munching on an English Muffin, reading The New York Times.  Mel Tormé.

I had never met Mel Tormé.  Alas, I still haven't and now I never will.  He looked like he was engrossed in the paper that day so I didn't stop and say, "Excuse me, I just wanted to tell you how much I've enjoyed all your records."  I wish I had.

Instead, I continued over to the BBQ place, got myself a chicken sandwich and settled down at a table to consume it.  I was about halfway through when four Christmas carolers strolled by, singing "Let It Snow," a cappella.

They were young adults with strong, fine voices and they were all clad in splendid Victorian garb.  The Market had hired them (I assume) to stroll about and sing for the diners — a little touch of the holidays.

"Let It Snow" concluded not far from me to polite applause from all within earshot.  I waved the leader of the chorale over and directed his attention to Mr. Tormé, seated about twenty yards from me.

"That's Mel Tormé down there.  Do you know who he is?"

The singer was about 25 so it didn't horrify me that he said, "No."

I asked, "Do you know 'The Christmas Song?'"

Again, a "No."

I said, "That's the one that starts, 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...'"

"Oh, yes," the caroler chirped.  "Is that what it's called?  'The Christmas Song?'"

"That's the name," I explained.  "And that man wrote it."  The singer thanked me, returned to his group for a brief huddle...and then they strolled down towards Mel Tormé.  I ditched the rest of my sandwich and followed, a few steps behind.  As they reached their quarry, they began singing, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." directly to him.

A big smile formed on Mel Tormé's face — and it wasn't the only one around.  Most of those sitting at nearby tables knew who he was and many seemed aware of the significance of singing that song to him.  For those who didn't, there was a sudden flurry of whispers: "That's Mel Tormé...he wrote that..."

As the choir reached the last chorus or two of the song, Mel got to his feet and made a little gesture that meant, "Let me sing one chorus solo."  The carolers — all still apparently unaware they were in the presence of one of the world's great singers — looked a bit uncomfortable.  I'd bet at least a couple were thinking, "Oh, no...the little fat guy wants to sing."

But they stopped and the little fat guy started to sing...and, of course, out came this beautiful, melodic, perfectly-on-pitch voice.  The look on the face of the singer I'd briefed was amazed at first...then properly impressed.

On Mr. Tormé's signal, they all joined in on the final lines: "Although it's been said, many times, many ways...Merry Christmas to you..."  Big smiles all around.

And not just from them.  I looked and at all the tables surrounding the impromptu performance, I saw huge grins of delight...which segued, as the song ended, into a huge burst of applause.  The whole tune only lasted about two minutes but I doubt anyone who was there will ever forget it.



1) The Music of Christmas: Jingle Bells

2) The Music of Christmas: "I am a fine musician"

3) The Music of Christmas: Mary's Boy Child

4) The Music of Christmas - Elvis Style

5) The Music of Christmas: Rudolph

6) The Music of Christmas: The Fat Man is watching

7)
The Music of Christmas: "Haul out the holly....."

8) The Music of Christmas: Judy Garland

9) The Music of Christmas: A partridge in a pear tree

10) The Music of Christmas: Disney-style

11) The Music of Christmas: "Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun"

12) The Music of Christmas: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

13) The Music of Christmas: Santa Baby

14) The Music of Christmas: The Best Ever?

15) The Music of Christmas....that has nothing to do with Christmas

16) The Music of Christmas: You're a Mean One

17) The Music of Christmas: Southern Gospel's Contribution

18) The Music of Christmas: "Soon It Will Be Christmas Day"

19) The Music of Christmas: And Heaven and Nature Sing

20) The Music of Christmas: "Come, they told me......."

21) The Music of Christmas: "If Only in my Dreams"

22) The Music of Christmas: "It is the Night of our Dear Saviour's Birth"

23) The Music of Christmas: "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire"


 

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