James Torme’s Vegas memories go back.
“I grew up in Las Vegas,” he says. “I learned to skateboard up and down the hallways of the Desert Inn” while his dad, singer Mel Torme, was holding court in the Crystal Room. (It’s now part of Wynn Las Vegas.)
But James Torme has a different musical style than his legendary dad — and a different venue to demonstrate the fact — when he helps kick off Henderson’s first Last Friday.
Subtitled “Just Add Water Street,” the free Last Friday event runs from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday on Water Street in downtown Henderson. (A special VIP section with free food and drink, which begins at 6 p.m., is sold out.)
With an inaugural “Best of Vegas” theme, Torme provides a bridge between Southern Nevada entertainment, then and now, performing at City Hall Plaza and accompanied by a “best of Vegas super-band,” he notes in a telephone interview from an East Coast rehearsal.
While “I’ll be tipping my hat to my dad and his peers,” from Ella Fitzgerald to Jack Jones and Vic Damone, Torme’s also got another set of influences: Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and Earth, Wind and Fire, among others, from “my own childhood.”
As the latter list proves, “the ’80s and ’90s are still close to my heart,” the 44-year-old singer explains. “It’s more of an evolution of the Torme sound. A Torme for the 21st century.”
To illustrate, he cites the “jazz sensibility” he adds to the R&B roots of Jackson’s hit “Rock With You,” which Torme calls “the wine drinker’s version of ‘Rock With You.’ ”
After all, “I’m a child of the Walkman generation, and “being able to have your own little musical world” left “a totally indelible mark on me,” he explains. “My musical education was being a kid of the ’80s and ’90s.”
As a result, Torme’s Last Friday performance will feature another Jackson song, “I Can’t Help It,” along with Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” — and a host of tunes from an even earlier vintage, including “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “On the Street Where You Live” and others.
Torme’s performed in Southern Nevada before, notably at The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz.
But he’s got a personal connection to Henderson’s Last Friday: his cousin Matt Sheldon, a lifelong Southern Nevadan (and Last Friday board member).
“He’s basically like my brother,” says Sheldon, whose grandmother — former Clark County commissioner and state legislator Myrna Williams — is Mel Torme’s sister and James Torme’s aunt. “He’s basically doing this for nothing.”
As Mel Torme’s youngest, James didn’t start his professional career “until six or seven years after my father had passed” in 1993, he notes. “But he absolutely was giving me musical cues.”
James Torme “knew I was going to be a singer from around the age of 10 — and I think my father knew it too,” he adds, citing “a sense of destiny,” from “almost as far back as I can remember.” Some of it was hanging around with his dad’s pals, a who’s who of jazz legends, including pianist George Shearing, drummer Buddy Rich and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.
Yet being the singing son of a singer’s singer proves “a double-edge sword,” Torme acknowledges. “In many cases, it has opened up opportunities. But in others, it perhaps inspires a bit of cynicism — until people see and hear me” and realize “I’m an artist in my own right, with my own sound and my own identity.”
Last Friday founder hopes new event will build buzz
As a kid growing up in Henderson, Antonio Nunez recalls “birthdays, parades” and more downtown on Water Street. “I remember it being such a hub.”
These days, not so much. “You could literally shoot a cannon at 5 o’clock,” he says, “and not hit a person or a car.”
Now, however, Nunez and colleagues hope to change all that with Last Friday, Just Add Water Street, a monthly themed event designed to draw locals to downtown Henderson.
In the works for more than a year, the event reflects Nunez’s research into similar gatherings across the U.S. — and around the world.
“I did London, New York, Denver, Phoenix, L.A., Hawaii,” Nunez says. “I hit ’em all,” making observations along the way.
“When you look at other First Friday events, the basis is food, art and music,” he notes.
Last Friday organizers opted to “start in a smaller footprint and let it grow organically,” according to Nunez.
Varying the usual setup, however, Water Street will remain open to traffic during Friday’s event. And each Last Friday will have its own theme; August’s is “Best of Vegas,” while September’s (to be held Sept. 22-23) will feature a car show and October highlights (what else?) Halloween.
“We don’t like to call them festivals — we call them events,” he explains. “That way, it’s never boring.”
Each month’s Last Friday will benefit a rotating roster of local charities; this month, attendees may donate to the Lion Habitat Ranch sanctuary, Safe House domestic violence shelter and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada.
“We hold the event each month,” Nunez notes, “and anything left goes to the charities.”
Contact Carol Cling at email@example.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.
■ What: Last Friday, Just Add Water Street
■ When: 7-10 p.m. Friday
■ Where: Water Street, Henderson
■ Admission: Free (justaddwaterstreet.com)
200 S. Water St., Henderson, NV