Today’s New York Times crossword puzzle, by Brad Wilber and Doug Peterson, serves in a small way to rewrite music history. The clue for 46-Down: “Cool jazz pioneer.” The answer: TORME.
No, he wasn’t.
The basis for this clue appears to be a paragraph from the Times obituary for Mel Tormé:
But it was as a singer that Mr. Torme made his deepest mark. The critic Will Friedwald, in his book Jazz Singing, cited Mr. Torme as a pioneer of “cool jazz,” spun off from the pop crooning of the day.Here is what Friedwald wrote:
[Jazz Singing: America’s Great Voices From Bessie Smith To Bebop And Beyond (1996).]
What Friedwald says in this passage is not that Tormé was a pioneer of cool jazz, but that his singing reflected that music. Indeed, Friedwald describes the so-called vo-cool style as coming into its own as “cool instrumental jazz,” or what most listeners would call cool jazz, began to fade in popularity.
I ran the clue for 46-Down (minus the rest of the puzzle) past my dad, who defers to no one in his love of Tormé’s music. His guess: YOUNG, as in Lester. I would have guessed DAVIS, as in Miles. As for the characterization of Tormé as a cool jazz pioneer, my dad calls it “a stretch.” Perhaps the characterization results from someone’s attempt to create a novel clue, something other than “Crooner Mel” or “Melodious Mel” or “The Velvet Fog,” all of which have appeared in Times puzzles. Mel Tormé was a terrific singer, and he’s always crossword-worthy. But he wasn’t a pioneer of cool jazz.
All crossword posts (Pinboard)
A Mel Tormé story
Tracts, tides, and drunks
[You can search for the history of a word or clue at XWord Info.]