It’s that common question of nature versus nurture. Is it the surroundings in which we are raised, or something in our DNA that makes us who we are?
Many times the conclusion we come to is – a little bit of both. That certainly seems to be the case for Steve March-Tormé. With a biological father who is a legendary crooner and a step-dad who was a popular television personality, you could say March-Tormé was destined to entertain.
You can see the results of nature and nurture for yourself when he performs on Green Bay’s Meyer Theatre stage Saturday, September 14th.
Steve March-Tormé is the son of jazz singer Mel Tormé and model/actress Candy Toxton. His parents divorced when he was young and Toxton got remarried to Hal March – a comedian and actor best known for hosting The $64,000 Question in the 1950s.
People in Northeast Wisconsin may be familiar with March-Tormé as the host of the the Afternoon Drive show on 91.1 The Avenue. He currently lives in Appleton with his family and performs around the country as well as overseas.
The Impact of Performing Parents
While he speaks highly of both his dad and stepdad, March-Tormé says it was Hal March who became the main father figure in his life. Steve says his relationship with his stepfather “was probably the most important” of his childhood.
“That was no slight on my natural father, Mel Tormé,” Steve explains. “It was simply a matter of circumstance and distance. I was brought up in a suburb of N.Y. while Mel was living in Los Angeles, so I didn’t get a chance to see him very often.”
Steve says he “worshiped” Hal March and wanted to be just like him. However, there was no pressure to follow any of his parents’ footsteps into show business.
“He told me when I was very young that it didn’t matter to him what profession I chose as long as I tried to be the best at that profession that I could, whether a garbage man, ballplayer, lawyer, actor, or cab driver.”
Like many boys, March-Tormé dreamed of being a major league baseball player, and would often ask his step-dad to help him practice.
“I can’t think of a single time that he refused me because he was too tired or had something else to do,” March-Tormé says. “He instilled in me a great sense of self esteem that, in my opinion, is absolutely invaluable, not only in the profession I did choose because it’s so tough, but in life in general.”
Hal March passed away after being diagnosed with lung cancer when March-Tormé was 17 years-old.
As it turned out, Steve did pursue a career in the entertainment industry. When you hear him sing, you’ll definitely notice a similarly smooth sound, one which earned Mel Tormé the nickname “The Velvet Fog.” It was a moniker the singer wasn’t particularly fond of – but it stuck.
While Steve March-Tormé may be blessed with some natural talent, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have to work to improve his vocal abilities. He paid close attention to his father’s work, and took the singer’s advice on developing his lower register.
“The impact my dad had on me musically was almost by osmosis. I’ve always admired his talent, as have many music fans, and especially jazz fans who recognized his ability to not only sing but to play drums, write music and perhaps even more importantly, arrange music,” March-Tormè says.
Mel Tormé’s biggest contribution to popular culture may be a holiday tune he co-wrote that all of us have sung countless times – “The Christmas Song” (aka Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire).
As the story goes, Tormé and Bob Wells were hanging out on a scorching hot summer day and started thinking of wintry images and memories to help them cool off. Out of nowhere – a classic Christmas carol was born.
Steve has had the opportunity to sing and record that song as well as other works written and performed by his birth-father. The two even performed together on a number of occasions before Mel Tormé passed away in 1999.
“His impact on me has more than anything been in his professionalism, which I hopefully took from both fathers,” Steve says. “I feel it is incumbent upon me to be as thorough and diligent in my preparation for a performance as it is in giving the performance itself, and that is a trait that Mel had in spades and I try to emulate.”
When the March family moved from New York to Los Angeles, it didn’t take long for Steve to dive into music. He was the frontman of his own band at the age of 13. He also formed friendships with other children of celebrities – people like Liza Minnelli, Desi Arnez Jr. and Dean Martin Jr.
In 1977, March-Tormé co-produced and sang on an album with Liza Minnelli. March-Tormé points out that his father worked alongside Minnelli’s famous mother, Judy Garland. It’s just one of the many ways Steve’s career seems to mirror that of both his dads’.
- Don’t miss videos of Mel, Hal and Steve at the end of this article
The Life of a Performer Living in Wisconsin
Even though he grew up in the show business epicenters of New York and Los Angeles, March-Tormé hasn’t given up entertaining now that he resides in the Midwest.
He admits you can’t really compare the arts and entertainment scene in Green Bay and the Fox Cities to those on the East and West coasts. However, he did find there is much to be enjoyed in the area. He has high praise for the various performing arts venues and the caliber of musicians he’s met.
“There are a number of extremely talented musicians here, especially in the field of jazz: musicians who can play on a par with anyone in L.A, Chicago or N.Y. and that was an unexpected and pleasant surprise for me when we moved here.”
March-Tormé has become a regular part of the music scene in Northeast Wisconsin. He also continues to record new albums and perform elsewhere. He’ll be in Las Vegas on September 27th and 28th at The Smith Center, which coincidentally is not too far away from Mel Tormé Blvd.
You can watch him at the Meyer Theatre on September 14th as he puts on his latest live show - Snap, Sizzle, Pop.
- Read about other upcoming Meyer Theatre shows
Steve says you can expect to hear a wide variety of music from some of his favorite artists. That includes everyone from Rodgers & Hart and Oscar Hammerstein to Stevie Wonder and The Beatles. March-Tormé will also perform some of his own original songs. He says he’s excited for the audience to see the show.
“The standards from the 30’s and 40’s are timeless for a reason, and I know that when I hear certain songs by James Taylor or Joni Mitchell or Stevie Wonder, they immediately evoke an emotional response from me not to mention indelible memories from my life. I hope my audience has the same experience.”
While much of the music you’ll hear at the show will be familiar, March-Tormé says he always tries to put a new spin on things.
“I love throwing in a musical left turn or two: something the ear isn’t expecting in a song that’s been heard thousands of times. That’s the fun challenge of singing standards for me: injecting my musical personality into a classic song that needs no help, and sharing that with an audience.”
You’ll see more than just musical talent shining through. Laughs and storytelling are another big part of the show.
“But the number one thing for them to expect is that I will sing my (fill in the blank) off for them.”
The Joy of the Day Job
When Steve March-Tormé isn’t holding a microphone onstage, you’re likely to find him sitting behind one and wearing a set of headphones.
His work as the host of 91.1 The Avenue’s Afternoon Drive has helped bring something fresh to radio in Northeast Wisconsin. (He can also be heard on the Music of Your Life Radio Network hosting his own show twice a week)
Listeners of The Avenue, a local, non-profit radio station, understand why March-Tormé is the perfect on-air talent. His eclectic personal preferences in music are similar to the unique blend of music on 91.1 FM.
“The mix of music on The Avenue is unlike any I’ve heard on any other station,” he says. “Eclectic is too obvious a word for our mix of music. I’d describe it as kaleidoscopic.” March-Tormé adds that much of the credit for the distinct song selection should go to The Avenue’s general manager and programmer, Rob Moore.
Steve says there are a lot of things he enjoys about his radio work and the people he works alongside at The Avenue.
“First would be the fact that I was really only given one rule when I was given my own radio slot,” he says. “Don’t get us sued. So far, so good.”
But in all seriousness – March-Tormé sincerely appreciates The Avenue’s core mission, which is supporting and promoting worthy causes as well as the arts and culture scene in Northeast Wisconsin.
He sees that scene beginning to grow and flourish. But reminds all of us that we play an important part in making sure it continues to happen.
“In order for this area to not only thrive but to grow as a haven for musicians and to draw audiences, more than anything we need to continue to come out and support these artists and these venues. And, of course, take chances on newer ventures like The Mile of Music, which was both ambitious and very successful. It not only gave a platform to the many local, indie acts but it also helped the venues that welcomed the extra revenue generated by the patrons that supported those acts. That’s a win-win.”
See Steve March-Tormé for Yourself:
- What: Snap, Sizzle, Pop – Presented by 91.1 The Avenue
- Where: Meyer Theatre, Green Bay
- When: Saturday, Sept 14th at 8 pm
- Cost: $30 reserved seating – Click to Order Tickets Online
- Get More on this artist at SteveMarchTorme.com