Steve March Tormé, son of legendary jazz singer Mel Tormé, and the Wisconsin Homegrown Jazz Quintet, five accomplished musicians all with state roots, headline the 29th edition of Lawrence University’s annual Jazz Celebration Weekend.
March Tormé opens the weekend Friday, Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 510 E. College Ave., Appleton. The Wisconsin Homegrown Jazz Quintet closes the weekend Saturday, Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for both concerts, ranging from $15 to $22 are available through the Lawrence Box Office, 920-832-6749.
“Wisconsin has produced a list of jazz luminaries, including such legends as bandleader Woody Herman of Milwaukee and renowned big band era trumpeter Bunny Berigan from Hilbert,” said Fred Sturm, director of jazz studies and improvisational music at Lawrence. “Some great musicians from Wisconsin are now major national and international jazz artists and our Jazz Weekend provides the perfect opportunity to bring a few of them back home.”
Backed by the 10-piece Lawrence Faculty Jazz Band, March Tormé’s opening concert, “Tormé Sings Tormé,” is a musical and visual tribute to his father as well as a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of his father’s 1999 death. The concert, which was part of a 32-city American tour in 2007, includes video footage and photos from March Tormé’s show business life.
Born in New York City, the son of the multi-talented Mel Tormé and the former model, Candy Tockstein, Steve’s parents’ divorced when he was young and his mother remarried the actor/comedian Hal March, who was the host of NBC-TV’s “The $64,000 Question.”
March Tormé spent nearly 30 years living in southern California, honing his craft as a performer, working as an actor and appearing on a number of variety television shows, including three years as the featured vocalist on ABC-TV’s “$100,000 Name That Tune.” His circle of friends included many other second-generation show biz kids, including Liza Minnelli, Dean Martin Jr. and Carrie Fisher.
With a singing career covering more than three decades, March Tormé’s repertoire spans the gamut from classic standards to his own original music that carries the influences of artists ranging from the Beatles and Todd Rundgren to Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan.
His first album, “Lucky,” released in the late 1970s, earned critical acclaim while is latest CD, “Inside/Out,” was released earlier this year. The disc features 12 of his own original works that showcase his talents as vocalist, keyboardist, guitarist and composer.
Lawrence’s superb vocal jazz group, the Hybrid Ensemble, will open the March Tormé concert and perform one of his original compositions with him. The concert also will include a performance of one of his father’s most famous compositions, “The Christmas Song,” with a new arrangement scored by Lawrence faculty member Lee Tomboulian.
“While the show is a tribute to Mel Tormé, Steve is not trying to copy his legendary father,” said Sturm. “Steve’s got a sound, style and approach that’s uniquely his. There are wonderful moments where you’ll hear his father’s influence, but Steve’s got a distinctive voice that’s all his.”
Four years ago, March Tormé moved from California to Wisconsin, where is wife is originally from, and now makes his home in Appleton.
His concert is presented in collaboration with the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center and media partner 91.1 FM The Avenue.
Saturday’s concert features the ensemble debut of the Wisconsin Homegrown Jazz Quintet, featuring saxophonist Joel Frahm of Racine, drummer Zach Harmon of Winneconne, Eau Claire native Geoffrey Keezer on piano, trumpeter Brian Lynch, who grew up in Milwaukee and Appleton-born bassist Ike Sturm.
While they will be playing together for the first time as an ensemble, each member of the quintet has established himself individually, performing with many of the jazz world’s biggest stars. In addition to performing together, each quintet member also will be showcased as a solo artist with the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble.
Lynch, considered one of the premier jazz artists working today, has been a member of the Horace Silver Quintet, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the Phil Woods Quintet and has enjoyed a 20-year association with Latin jazz star Eddie Palmieri.
Keezer, who began touring with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers as an 18-year old, has been the featured pianist with Diana Krall, Joshua Redman, Chick Corea and Christian McBride, among others.
Frahm, who recently was recognized in Downbeat magazine’s Critics Poll as a “Rising Star” in the tenor saxophone category, has appeared with Jane Monheit and Kurt Rosenwinkel and recorded the 2004 CD “Don’t Explain” with Brad Mehldau.
Harmon and Sturm will be on familiar turf as both have strong Lawrence connections. Harmon, who grew up in Winneconne and now lives in Los Angeles, is the son of Wisconsin musical icon John Harmon, the first director of Lawrence’s jazz studies program. He has toured Vietnam and India with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and recorded with Grammy-winning trumpeter Terence Blanchard.
Sturm, the Appleton-born son of current Lawrence jazz director Fred Sturm, is the jazz music director at St. Peter’s Church — the “Jazz Church” — in Manhattan and has collaborated with Bobby McFerrin, Maria Schneider and Kenny Wheeler. His new CD, “Jazz Mass,” is scheduled for release in mid-November.
“Though several members have crossed musical paths before this, the quintet will play together for the first time as a unit just 48 hours before their Saturday performance,” said Sturm. “Assembling this group was like picking my own Wisconsin all-star team. And having Ike and Zach on stage will complete beautiful circles for John Harmon and me.”
In addition the two evening concerts, more than 1,000 middle and high school and collegiate instrumental and vocal students representing 49 school ensembles will participate in a series of clinics on Saturday, Nov. 7 conducted by seven Wisconsin jazz educators. All of Saturday’s daytime events, including ensemble performances held throughout the Music-Drama Center, Shattuck Hall, and the Memorial Chapel, are free and open to the public.
A complete Jazz Celebration Weekend schedule of events can be found here.