James Torme brings his jazz-soul act to San Francisco for the first time. (Courtesy photo)

Singer James Torme a living legacy and something new

As a kid, on visits to San Francisco, James Tormé used to hang in the Tonga Room, enjoying the rainstorms, while his dad Mel Tormé headlined the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room.

This week, he’s coming back to the The City, headlining Feinstein’s at the Nikko.

The versatile soul-meets-jazz crooner is thrilled to be making his local debut in what he calls a particularly meaningful show that pays homage to artists who have helped his career: Ella Fitzgerald, Fred Astaire, Miles Davis, Carmen McRae, Duke Ellington and, of course, his father, “The Velvet Fog.”

“He taught me how to have a love affair with music, and impressed upon me musical values and choices from a very young age,” says Tormé, 42.

Their styles aren’t quite the same.

“I consider myself a living, breathing tribute to him and his era, but also bringing something new to that. I’m Mel Tormé for today, taking the brand into the 21st century,” he adds.

The “new” element comes through clearly in his mesmerizing cover of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” from his all-time favorite album “Off the Wall.” (His mom got him the tape, which he played constantly on his Emerson cassette recorder in 1979, he says.)

“I was instantly, completely infected by it and have never recovered.”

His love of R&B also is reflected in a recent recording project with folks who produced several cuts on “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” in hallowed studios in Springfield, Va.,

Tormé does get around, and always has.

The son of English actress Janelle Scott, whose mom was actress Thora Hird (a “respected Lucille Ball-figure in the U.K,”), Tormé grew up splitting his time between London and Los Angeles, a pattern that continues today.

He also travels, and has bands in Miami, Scotland, Finland and Holland.

In recent years, he’s been selling out club shows in London, thanks to a 2012 BBC broadcast of a concert with Gregory Porter and Madeline Bell about the life and music of Ray Charles that was seen by 12 million people.

Although he admits there’s a double-edged sword to being the offspring of an iconic artist (doors are opened because people are curious, but others “have a sneer at the ready” upon seeing his name), Tormé is proud of his background and genetics — and of doing his own thing.

“The key is to be really good,” says the award-winning singer, whose albums “Comin’ Home and Love for Sale” have topped jazz charts.

When he’s not making music, Tormé enjoys movies (he’s a self-proclaimed film nut), running and playing tennis. He’s capitalizing on the effect of lessons with a pro his dad paid for in 1987 to keep junior busy when he was headlining with Jerry Lewis at the Desert Inn.


James Torme

Where: Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday July 20, 8 p.m. Thursday July 21

Tickets: $40 to $60

Contact: (866) 663-1063, www.feinsteinsatthenikko.comFeinstein’s at the NikkoJames TormejazzMel TormePop MusicRock With Yousoul

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