Johnny Hartman

John Maurice Hartman (July 3 1923 – September 15 1983) was an American baritone jazz singer who specialized in ballads and earned critical acclaim, though he was never widely known. He recorded a well-known collaboration with the saxophonist John Coltrane in 1963 called John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, and was briefly a member of Dizzy Gillespie‘s group. Most of his career was spent recording solo albums.

Born and raised in Chicago, Hartman began singing and playing the piano by age eight. Hartman attended DuSable High School studying music under Walter Dyett before receiving a scholarship to Chicago Musical College. He sang as an Army private during World War II, but his first professional work came in September 1946 when he won a singing contest awarding him a one-week engagement with Earl Hines. Seeing potential in the singer, Hines hired him for the next year. Although Hartman’s first recordings were with Marl Young in February 1947, it was the collaboration with Hines that provided notable exposure. After the Hines orchestra broke up, Dizzy Gillespie invited Hartman to join his big band in 1948 during an eight-week tour in California. Dropped from the band about one year later, Hartman worked for a short time with pianist Erroll Garner before going solo by early 1950.

John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman (1963) “My One And Only Love”

Okay, forgetting the graphic on the video, this is a fabulous rendition of “Lush Life” Immediately followed by a live version of the same song.

Johnny Hartman sings his signature song, Lush Life, on the Jonathan Schwartz TV show (NYC) in 1983.

After recording several singles with different orchestras, Hartman finally released his first solo album, Songs From the Heart, with a quintet for Bethlehem Records in 1955. Releasing two more albums with small labels, neither very successful, Hartman got a career-altering offer in 1963 to record with John Coltrane. The saxophonist likely remembered Hartman from a bill they shared at the Apollo Theater in 1950 and later said, “I just felt something about him, I don’t know what it was. I like his sound, I thought there was something there I had to hear so I looked him up and did that album.”[1] Featuring all ballads, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is widely considered a classic. This led to recording four more albums with Impulse! and parent label ABC, all produced by Bob Thiele.

With the 1970s being difficult for singers clinging to the pre-rock American songbook, Hartman turned to playing cocktail lounges in New York City and Chicago. Recording again with small labels like Perception and Musicor, Hartman produced music of mixed quality as he attempted to be viewed as a more versatile vocalist. Referring to his approach to interpreting a song, Hartman said, “Well, to me a lyric is a story, almost like talking, telling somebody a story, try to make it believable.”[2] Returning to the jazz combo format of his earlier albums, Hartman recorded Once in Every Life for Bee Hive, earning him a 1981 Grammy nomination for Best Male Jazz Vocalist. This was quickly followed up by his last album of newly recorded material titled This One’s for Tedi as a tribute to his wife.

Johnny Hartman sings the Rodgers and Hart song, “It Never Entered My Mind”

1955 “What Is There To Say?”

Johnny recorded new tracks for Grenadilla Records on their jazz label – Grapevine. These were dance tracks of Beyond the Sea and Caravan with Caravan also having an extended 6-minute version.

In the early 1980s Hartman gave several performances for jazz festivals, television, and radio before succumbing to lung cancer at age sixty. His reputation grew considerably in 1995 when the soundtrack to Clint Eastwood’s Bridges of Madison County (1995) featured seven songs from the then out-of-print Bee Hive album. With the renewed public interest in his deep-voiced, romantically charged ballads, all the music from Hartman’s solo albums and most of his earlier singles have since been reissued. Considering the nearly unanimous critical praise Hartman received during his life, it is unfortunate greater popularity always seemed to escape him.

1963 “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning”

The late jazz vocalist Hartman apparently made many TV appearances on foreign soil but not so many in his home country. Here is one, from regional TV, with the trio of Loonis McGlohon, who also wrote both songs.

“Charade”

After listening to Johnny Hartman sing you’ll probably be wondering, “How did I miss him?!” He had a voice that was so rich, deep and unique and yet he never seemed to get past the many variables that kept him from becoming a household name. I’ve been listening to him since the late 70’s. Many of the songs I perform regularly, such as “My One And Only Love,” and  “Wee Small Hours” are a result of listening to Johnny’s recordings. I’d venture as far to say that no jazz collection is complete without him.

Discography

  • Songs from the Heart (Bethlehem, 1955)
  • Johnny Hartman Sings (Savoy Jazz, 1956)
  • All of Me (Bethlehem, 1956)
  • Dancetracks: Beyond the Sea & Caravan (Grenadilla Music, 2010)
  • And I Thought About You (Roost, 1959)
  • John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse!, 1963)
  • I Just Dropped By to Say Hello (Impulse!, 1963)
  • The Voice That Is! (Impulse!, 1965)
  • Unforgettable Songs (ABC-Paramount, 1966)
  • I Love Everybody (ABC-Paramount, 1967)
  • Today (Perception, 1973)
  • I’ve Been There (Perception, 1975)
  • The Many Moods of Johnny Hartman (Musicor, 1976)
  • Once In Every Life (Bee Hive, 1980)
  • This One’s for Tedi (Audiophile, 1980)
  • For Trane (Blue Note, 1995)
  • Johnny Hartman Collection 1947-1972 (Hip-O, 1998)
  • Thanks for Everything (Audiophile, 1998)
  • Complete Regent Recordings (Jazz Factory, 2001)
  • You Came A Long Way From St. Louis (Definitive, 2003)
  • A Proper Introductio to Johnny Hartman: There Goes My Heart (Proper, 2004)
  • Tokyo Albums (Gambit, 2005)
  • Boston Concert 1976 (Gambit, 2007)
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