When the unforgettable show finished, McKellar turned to me and asked: "If you have the time and can wait for MEL to head back to his room and catch his breath, we can join him for a drink". I didn't have to be asked twice. From about 11:30 to 3:15 am, we sat on chairs or the floor, talking about everything: politics, gun control, capital punishment... then it turned to TORME's work.
He expressed his feelings about always being an "outsider;" a white jazz singer of standards who never made the pop charts, not much play on contemporary radio stations, never had even one hit. Yet he described a week's gig at a "swish" upscale club in San Francisco. He remembered after one evening's performance, the Maitre d' told him that they almost didn't let an old man into the room who was wearing an worn trench coat, sporting a shaggy growth on his face, so they just kept a watchful eye and he made no disturbance.
A few weeks later MEL was doing a show in England, and had just returned to his hotel room late one night and the phone rang. The voice of an older man sounded vaguely familiar, and the man teasingly chastised TORME by saying how difficult it was for (the caller) to locate him. He continued by saying he had not dressed properly for MEL's San Francisco engagement, not knowing how fancy the venue was, and had barely been allowed in. He said he wanted to tell the singer how he loved that night, and for years wanted to tell him he believed he was absolute top tier of any English language vocalist, of ANY genre. TORME thanked him, and asked for his name. The reply: "Bing Crosby". MEL told us he could have been knocked over by a feather; that it was one of his most treasured moments of his entire life..... he did not know how to thank Mr. Crosby. He told us that it was the moment he realized he wasn't really an outsider or a "wannabe;" he was actually loved by his toughest critics: his peers.
I had hit a "wall" and felt it was time to leave. Yet I had also just been given a gift: that story. MEL was looking tired, his heavy eyes drooping a wee bit. So as I thanked the singer and Phil for the wonderful evening, I turned to TORME as I stood and reached for the door. I said: "You mentioned earlier about never having had a hit. You know, there are one-hit wonders who are now tending bar in Hoboken, selling carpet or used cars in Los Angeles. You wrote many songs, one of them a diamond that is played, recorded and loved yearly. It's 'The Christmas Song' (first recorded by Nat King Cole). If you never wrote another tune, sang another song, you have given the world a gift that is everlasting and will outlive anything else".
Mr. TORME looked up at me, said he was too close to that seasonal chestnut to have thought of its impact or realized it's importance. His tired eyes looked moist as he thanked me for that perspective, and said "Good night".
So next time you hear "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire........" enjoy Cole's or one of hundreds other interpretations of that gem, but think about the modest man who felt second-rate, yet gave that gift directly to you. One of many you and I have, that we unwrap every December!