Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cool jazz pioneer?

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.


Here’s what happened when I wrote to the Times.

Related posts
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.]

comments: 4

Elaine said...

I hope you sent a copy of this post to Will Shortz. (I did not see it in the Comments on WordPlay.) I think there are more than a few folk who would have loved to agree!

I resisted until the last, but I had to finish the puzzle....

Michael Leddy said...

I left a comment on the Wordplay page. Okay, I’ll write to the Times.

Anonymous said...

I love doing the Saturday puzzles and I am a jazz expert. This stupid clue nearly ruined my Saturday because I could NEVER get that the answer would be Torme.

Michael Leddy said...

As the letters fell into place, I knew that it had to be TORME, but I never suspended disbelief.

Will Shortz said that he takes my point, but there was no correction from the Times.

Who knows? By 2031, there could be Beloit Mindset List material here: “Mel Tormé has always been a cool jazz pioneer.”