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An evening of mellow sounds

The "Velvet Fog" will be rolling into the Rogue Valley when Camelot Theatre Company presents "Spotlight on Mel Tormé "¦ A Little Biography and a Lot of Music!"

The show will feature Joe Diamond singing some of Tormé's greatest hits at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Jan. 10 through Jan. 27, at 101 Talent Ave. Talent.

Camelot has turned the spotlight on such familiar recording artists as the Andrews Sisters, Patti Page, Bing Crosby, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Julie Andrews, Julie London and Doris Day. In the process, the theater is drawing in an audience that is rarely being served.

Tormé, who died in 1999, was an American treasure. His singing legacy includes hits like "Mountain Greenery," "Lady be Good," and "Blue Moon." It made him a much-loved and much-respected singer. Bing Crosby said Mel Tormé was "the most fantastic musical performer I think we've ever had."

Tormé was the very definition of a jazz singer. An arranger, lyricist and composer, he wrote and arranged a wide variety of music, from jazz, to popular, to orchestral, to Christmas music. He wrote the jazz standards "Born to be Blue" and "A Stranger in Town," and with Bob Wells, "The Christmas Song" ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...").

Diamond will bring Tormé to life on the Camelot Theatre stage with an evening of humor, vocal brilliance, and great music. The script is by Diamond with Camelot Spotlight Supervisor Charles Cherry. Diamond was born in Washington, D.C., and made his musical debut at 3 in a nightclub where his father was the featured vocalist.

The young Diamond was the soloist in his high school choir and sang his way through college while earning a Ph.D. in school administration. An accomplished brass player, Diamond moved to the Rogue Valley in the 1980s after touring the country with the vocal group, the Merry Macs, who performed on radio and television.

Speaking of Tormé, Diamond said, "He's been my idol my whole life. He was rather short and got plump. If a short, plump guy can make it, so can I. This is the guy I wanted to emulate. He was five years older than I, and 10 years younger than Sinatra."

Joining Diamond will be narrator Brian O'Connor and musical director and arranger Robin Lawson on keyboards. Lawson, who will be playing a baby grand piano, has performed in the Rogue Valley since the early 1970s. In his British musical family both parents were pianists. Jazz brought him to study piano, vibes and jazz harmony at Boston's Berklee School of Music. He served as arranger and music director for Camelot's spotlight productions on Peggy Lee, the Andrews Sisters, Billie Holiday and Julie London.

Rogue Valley musicians make up the eight-piece "Big Band" featuring Lyle Ames (guitarist), Jim Calhoun (bass), Steve Davidson (saxophone), Daryl Fjeldheim (tenor sax), Randy Scherer (trumpet), Marianne Robison (vocals), Tom Stamper (drummer) and Mike Vannice (woodwinds).

"We try to capture as close to the sound of the instrumental groups that backed him up," Lawson said. "The guys are all terrific readers."

Tormé, who was never formally trained in music, wrote most of the arrangements for his band.

"He knew what he wanted," Diamond said.

Originally a drummer, Tormé was offered jobs with some of the great band leaders of his era, such as Harry James and Benny Goodman.

"He was totally in charge of rhythms," Diamond said. "Tormé was on the Judy Garland television show for two years. He wrote musical arrangements and special lyrics. He would tell you, 'I don't sing the same song twice.' He would phrase it just slightly differently."

Diamond's style is similar. "I am allowing myself a little freedom around the arrangements to express myself," he said.

Lawson added that "A lot of guys can't hold a note for a long time. Joe can hang on a note forever. And Tormé does the same thing."

Audiences will be treated to such musical numbers as "Take the 'A' Train," "Stardust," "Lulu's Back in Town," "Too Close for Comfort," "Just in Time," "Don't Get Around Much, Anymore," and many other favorites.

Tickets are $18. Reserved seating is an additional $2. See www.CamelotTheatre.org or call 535-5250.