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Singer Mel Torme dies at 73 from stroke complications

Mel Torme, the fluent pop-jazz singer who earned the nickname the Velvet Fog for his smooth, soft vocal timbre, died Saturday of complications from a stroke he suffered in 1996. He was 73 and lived in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Torme was rushed early Saturday from his home to the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center, said his publicist, Rob Wilcox.A supreme vocal technician whose style encompassed everything from intimate pop crooning to jet-propelled scat improvisations, Torme was rivaled in virtuosity only by Ella Fitzgerald, who moved between the worlds of pop and jazz with a similar ease. An innate classicist who approached popular songs with an analytic sense of balance and proportion, Torme infused everything he sang with a geniality that seemed ingrained in a voice that was incapable of making an unpleasant sound.

Torme was also a prolific songwriter, drummer, pianist, musical arranger, actor and author. His most famous composition, "The Christmas Song" (also known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"), written with the lyricist Robert Wells, became one of the most beloved of seasonal standards after it was recorded by Nat (King) Cole in 1946.

Torme liked to recall that the song was written in just 40 minutes on a sweltering July afternoon in Los Angeles and that it had subsequently been recorded in 1,734 versions.

The critic Will Friedwald, in his book "Jazz Singing," cited Torme as a pioneer of the "cool jazz" approach, spun off from the pop crooning of the day.

"Torme works with the most beautiful voice a man is allowed to have, and he combines it with a flawless sense of pitch," Friedwald wrote. "As an improviser he shames all but two or three other scat singers and quite a few horn players as well."

His standards included "Blue Moon," "It Might as Well Be Spring," "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" and "Mountain Greenery."